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Distance Learning Comes to Navajo Nation

Communication can be hard in rural areas, and in some cases -- like that of Navajo country in Arizona, where the distance from one town to another can be over a hundred miles across unpaved roads -- getting out and toward diverse education can be a daunting task. Now, however, a group of eight rural high schools is taking advantage of new technology, namely high-speed internet, by opening the doors to distance education.

Conterra Telecom Services, a national broadband services company specializing in rural areas, has announced the commencement of high speed wireless wide area network service for the Northeast Arizona Technological Institute of Vocational Education. The Ethernet-based microwave radio network connects all of the eight member district high schools through 66 career technical classrooms. A five-year contract was awarded to Conterra through the federal E-Rate program, which subsidizes a large portion of the district's costs for the services.

The purpose of this program is to engage students across the state in college-level vocational courses to which they might not otherwise have access. It is the first of its kind in the area, and so far it seems to be a raging success.

"The extreme distances between sites and the isolated rural environment of the Navajo Nation make video conferencing distance learning the only option for providing curriculum equity to our students. Through the vision of the N.A.T.I.V.E. Governing Board, implementation of interactive distance learning across a high speed microwave network reduces the negative impact of isolation, and opens the door to a wide variety of career training opportunities," said Karen Lesher, superintendent of the N.A.T.I.V.E. District. "Our students are benefiting today by having otherwise inaccessible college-level career programs now available at their sites."

Cited as a wonderful use of funding, the fledgling distance learning project is giving thousands of students a whole brand-new world of opportunities.

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