The Mogollon Health Alliance received more than $250,000 from the 2012 USDA Distance Learning and Telecommunication Grant to aid schools with online learning by giving local high schools cutting-edge technology.
The $276,793 grant will help Payson High School, Tonto Basin Elementary, Pine-Strawberry Elementary, and the Mogollon High School in Heber-Overgaard to purchase video-conferencing equipment for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.
“We’ve worked closely with (Payson Superintendent) Ron Hitchcock and (Payson Director of Technology) Joni de Szendeffy,” said Mogollon Health Alliance CEO Sanja Long.
Mogollon Health Alliance President and Payson Mayor Kenny Evans is lining up donations and corporate sponsorships to provide a $125,000 local match for the grant.
All told, the donations and the grant will provide some $400,000 to wire the four campuses to receive high-speed Internet, provide links and screens in many classrooms to create digital classrooms, so teachers can bring online content into their classrooms.
The Mogollon Health Alliance has been seeking the grant for the past three years. It’s proposal fell just short of the score needed in the first two years, so the grant failed. But when the Department of Agriculture came up with additional money, the department reached into the stack of just-barely-rejected proposals and offered MHA the money.
By that time, the school district partners had already adopted budgets that didn’t include any matching funds, prompting the Alliance to scramble to find matching donations to secure the grant.
Long said the Mogollon Health Alliance wrote the grant on behalf of the schools under the umbrella of its non-profit status.
“We look for opportunities to help the community,” said Long.
MHA finances health and education throughout the Rim Country through grants and fund-raising efforts. The non-profit organization supports human health scholarships assists 11 rural fire departments and operates its own budget of a quarter million dollars, according to its grant application.
The Alliance has also lent its non-profit status to groups trying to raise money for a college campus here. The Alliance is also seeking a $30 million federal grant to make Payson a hub for online, telemedicine services throughout rural, northern Arizona.
Through the just-received distance learning grant, MHA hopes to help Rim Country schools with curriculum for Advanced Placement classes, enrichment and gifted courses, virtual field trips, professional development for teachers and staff, and offer schools the ability to access a school psychiatrist — all remotely.
“With video conferencing equipment and a more unified distance learning program, the schools will be able to receive the same educational benefits and opportunities as in an urban area,” wrote MHA in its grant application.
On Monday, Aug. 27, State Director of the Department of Agriculture Alan Stephens presented a plaque to the Mogollon Health Alliance and school superintendents.