Keeping sixth-grade Mandarin alive was the immediate goal, but in spending $60,000 to set up two "telepresence classrooms," the Ridgeville, Conn., school board is chasing a broader vision, reports the Ridgefield Press: virtual museum visits, video college courses, and collaborative projects with schools around the world. "I think this is great out-of-the-box thinking," board member Richard Steinhart said Aug. 25. "I think it opens up a lot of outside possibilities beyond Mandarin." Put together by Technology Director Josh Smith at the request of Superintendent Deborah Low, the plan is sophisticated in its electronics but simple in concept. By equipping both Scotts Ridge and East Ridge middle schools with interactive "telepresence" classrooms, the relatively small number of incoming sixth graders who want to take Mandarin–nine at one school, 11 at the other–can be taught together by a single teacher in a classroom at either of the two schools where the students are. The staffing cost is half–$5,500 rather than $11,000–compared to what it would be if the teacher taught two separate classes, one at each school, in different time slots, an had to be paid for teaching two classes. The larger "telepresence" gathering also meets the district’s class-size guidelines. The teacher could be physically present at either school, and another adult from the staff at the other one would supervise in the room where the teacher was only a virtual presence. "It does create huge efficiencies in staffing," said Superintendent Deborah Low. "You’re able to keep the breadth of programming."
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