Grants to provide distance-learning classrooms, computers at ESHS

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A group of Carroll County nonprofits have stepped up with $112,176 in funding to help Eureka Springs High School meet the challenge of in-class and at-home learning this fall.

Two grants will give the school two distance-learning classrooms and 32 desktop computers to assist in distance learning.

“It’s a joint effort of the Carroll County Resource Council, the Eureka Springs Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development, North Arkansas College, the North Arkansas Partnership for Health Education and the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce,” said Resource Council Executive Director Rob Kerby.

The funding comes from a $50,000 job-training grant from the American Electric Power Foundation and a $61,176 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. The project also has a tentative commitment from the state Office of Skills Development for reimbursement for books, instructional materials and instructors’ salaries.

“A lot of credit goes to Sandy Martin on the Eureka Springs mayor’s task force,” Kerby said. “She put interested partners together to make this a reality.”

The idea of a Eureka Springs Job Skills Center started in discussions between the college, the chamber and Resource Council treasurer Jerri Marlowe, Chamber president Mike Seals said.

Two major needs were identified: the lack of jobs during the Eureka Springs “offseason” and the local shortage of medical workers. The chamber’s members asked for job training in hospitality and culinary arts.

The Resource Council did a needs assessment and found area hospitals, elder-care facilities, home health care providers, doctors’ offices and clinics are dealing with an extreme shortage of certified nursing assistants.

“Employers told us if we walked in the door with 52 qualified CNAs, they would hire them that day.” Resource Council chair Sherri Plumlee said.

Funding was secured, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Kerby and Martin serve on North Arkansas College’s Carroll County Center advisory board and began taking back to their leadership the idea of collaborating with the high school. Under the terms of both grants, the project has to take place in Eureka Springs.

“The fit was perfect,” Resource Council secretary Judy Williams said. “We are able to provide two distance-learning classrooms or ‘Zoom rooms’ to bring NAC classes to Eureka Springs job trainees, plus 32 desktop computers for online job skills classes.

“It comes just as the high school was looking at how to provide the ‘blended’ learning environment that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has mandated – in which schools provide in-class instruction as well as at-home instruction.”

Purchase of the equipment has already begun. Delivery and installation is expected to take place as soon as possible.

The two “Zoom Room” distance learning classrooms will allow on-site high school teachers to instruct students in class as well as at home. The rooms will have large screens, cameras and sound systems so that off-site students can participate in real-time on their home computers or even cell phones.

NAC classes can be broadcast directly to the high school – rather than students having to ride buses to job-skills classes in Berryville or Harrison. There is also discussion of eventually using the technology to broadcast some Connect 4 job skills classes from Berryville to Eureka Springs.

Using the equipment to enhance the high school’s CNA program will be a priority. Originally some of the funding would have provided a CNA practicum lab – a mock-up hospital room at the Chamber headquarters. Instead, the collaboration will use the lab at NAC’s Berryville center. Not duplicating the lab has freed up funds for additional desktop computers.

The desktop units will allow students to take some of the required CNA instruction online and opens up opportunities for Eureka Springs High School students to take job-skills training at such distance-learning sites as Eastern Illinois University, the Ozark Tech Center in Springfield, Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa and any other job skills online instruction.

Eventually, the high school may be able to offer community learning classes to adults after hours – returning to the original concept of the project.

“However,” said Kerby, “let’s get through this pandemic first.”

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