Wills gives District 27 distance learning tool

City Councilman Ruben Wills (third from l.) is joined by his colleagues in government and educators to launch the Distance Learning Program in his district. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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MS 226 in South Ozone Park received a visit from two heavyweight educators — one in person and one virtually — last week as the school showed off a piece of new technology that City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) secured for his district.

State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Richard Culatta, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, heralded the Distance Learning Program, which allows students to video conference with schools and experts throughout the city, country and world.

Wills, who has previously supported MS 226, at 121-10 Rockaway Blvd., with smartboards and a trip to Washington, D.C., secured about $500,000 in capital funding to provide all the schools in his district with the technology.

By September, the program should be up and running in 14 schools and will be rolled out to the remainder of the council district’s schools once the city School Construction Authority completes increasing their bandwidth.

The councilman gathered students, parents, educators and his colleagues in government inside the school’s auditorium to formally launch what he called the “classroom without walls.”

He said he collaborated with Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and state Assemblywomen Michelle Titus (D-Far Rockaway) and Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) to “make sure this happened in southeast Queens first.”

“Imagine the possibilities of competing in spelling bees, debates, even science fairs without ever leaving the classroom,” Wills said.

Using the video-conferencing equipment, Principal Angela O’Dowd of PS 62 in Rochdale Village beamed into the school’s auditorium and explained how she planned to use the equipment to close the achievement gap for her 950 students.

O’Dowd said she had previously used Skype to connect her students with experts around the world, and this tech upgrade would allow for a more streamlined process, adding that it would be the “ideas, not the equipment, that make a useful learning experience.

The Board of Regents chancellor said she had grown up in a disadvantaged community not that different from southeast Queens, which she called a community on its way up.

“What you have here is an outstanding community on the move,” Tisch said. “Grab it. Own it, and don’t let anyone, anyone stand in your way.”

Culatta, who said it was fitting he delivered his address virtually, told of how he had seen similar technology used by a school in a rural community, where students were able to video conference with an astronaut who had just returned from space.

“This is a great opportunity to be able to connect your children and your students with experts around the country,” he said. “It is up to your imagination how you will use this.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 10:21 am, June 14, 2012
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