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A $498,979 federal grant is helping Cattaraugus-Allegany-Erie-Wyoming BOCES set up new Polycom hardware to mobile instruction labs in 14 Distance Learning school districts in the Southern Tier.

The project, one of the smallest awards given to 40 institutions as part of the USDA Rural Development's $24.6 million distance education and telemedicine program nationwide, was met with a $680,000 local match from the participating districts.

Small portable desktop cameras will link 23 labs and as many as 300 "endpoint" conferencing classrooms in rural locations. About 20,000 children and teachers will both send and receive information technology in small groups.

State Sen. Patricia McGee, R-Franklinville, a key supporter of BOCES' grant application, congratulated BOCES officials last week, and said the project will help supply core values to area schools. "This will put our children on a par with every child throughout the U.S.," she said.

USDA Rural Development State Director Patrick Brennan in a presentation at the BOCES center in Olean said the award will present opportunities to help make children and local residents feel safe and be successful."

Project Manager Michael Doyle of BOCES said the new distance learning hardware should be operational in the coming school year.

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