SKOWHEGAN — School Administrative District 54 will get nearly $500,000 in federal grants for a laptop-based distance learning system.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a total of $1,093,138 in grant funding to two Maine school districts and a rural health care provider through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said in a joint release Friday.

The school district, which serves Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield, will get $499,278 to buy the equipment. The initiative is intended to increase elementary, middle and high school students’ knowledge and practice of important health and wellness concepts.

“Access to advanced telecommunications and medical technologies as well as high-speed broadband can make a significant difference in overcoming challenges presented by distance, particularly in a large, rural state like Maine,” Collins and King said in the release.

“These funds will help to expand educational opportunities for students and local community members and will also invest in new medical equipment that will provide people with the care they need while allowing them to remain in the comfort of their home.”

SAD 37 — including the towns of Addison, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Millbridge, Harrington and Cherryfield — is the other school district named as a recipient. That district will get $490,625 to help acquire equipment and software for a distance learning connection with Machias Bay Area School System.

The project will involve 22 schools serving nearly 6,500 students, 575 teachers, 13,000 parents and more than 33,000 community members.

Maine Community Health & Counseling Services also will get $103,235 to buy in-home patient monitors, medication dispensers and screening monitors for patients in Piscataquis and Washington counties.

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