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Students soon to set forth on virtual trips

Within the next two months, Starpoint teachers will be able to take their students on faraway trips without leaving their Mapleton Road campus.

That's because the district has tapped into a new program, called "Virtual Field Trip & Distance Learning Sites," through the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services, School Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan said last week.

Teachers for grades kindergarten through 12 will be able to take their classes to the high school lecture hall or auditorium and go on trips -- on large-screen monitors -- to places that include the Albany Institute of History, Art Center for Puppetry Arts, the Cleveland Institute of Music, Colonial Williamsburg and the San Diego Zoo.

"You can even take kindergarten to sixth-graders to the Buffalo Museum of Science for 60 minutes," Whelan said.

The virtual trips are interactive, said Molly Thomson, BOCES School Library System director.

"There's actually someone at the other end of the trip showing them things, and the kids can ask that person questions about what they are seeing and get answers," Thomson said.

The virtual trips, which last 30 minutes to an hour, cost anywhere from $135 to $265, Whelan said.

"We decided to do this because it will reinforce the work students are doing in the classroom," he said. "A lot of these trips cover what's going on at different levels of our curriculum.

"For example, if a fifth-grade social studies class just studied Colonial Williamsburg, the teacher may decide to use the program to reinforce that material. The teacher can just take them all right to Colonial Williamsburg on a field trip to see what it was really like. All the fifth grades could do it in a large group in the lecture hall or the auditorium."

Such programs can help with a large variety of subject areas, including mathematics, science and English, the superintendent said.

A science class, for example, can take a virtual visit to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center or an art class could visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art or the Rutgers Camden Center for the Arts.

"I like it because it gives kids a firsthand look at things without having to leave school. It brings them right there to the scene after they've learned something in class," he said.

Within the next year, Whelan said, teachers will be able have their students take virtual trips in their own classrooms.

He said the district, as part of its upcoming $15 million capital project plan, intends to install large viewing screens that come down out of the ceilings in each classroom, along with a ceiling projector that teachers can use to take students on a virtual trip.

Whelan said the screens will replace the 32-inch television monitors that were installed at Starpoint district classrooms about eight years ago.

Thomson said the distance learning site system is being set up on BOCES computers and should be ready for use within the next two months.

She said there are hundreds, and probably will be thousands, of virtual trips to choose from once BOCES goes online with the program. She said Joseph Steinmetz, BOCES coordinator of instructional services, set up the program.


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