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United Arab Emirates vows $1m for hard-hit Joplin schools

By Alan Scher Zagier
Associated Press / August 10, 2011

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COLUMBIA, Mo. - The United Arab Emirates yesterday pledged to give up to $1 million to help equip high school students in the tornado-ravaged city of Joplin with laptop computers for the coming school year.

When the new school year begins later this month, some students will attend classes in a converted big-box store, but they’ll have new Apple notebooks to aid their studies.

Joplin High School was among the many homes and buildings destroyed by the May 22 tornado that tore through the city, killing 160 people and injuring hundreds of others. The gulf state’s gift to the Joplin school district will help it further integrate computer-assisted learning in its classrooms, said Angie Bessendorfer, an assistant superintendent.

“The students are thrilled. The way we teach and the way students learn is going to be very different,’’ said Bessendorfer, who added that the computer initiative has been a district goal for at least three years.

The gift materialized after United Arab Emirates officials read an Associated Press story in late June about the school system’s struggles, said Dana Al Marashi, who heads the heritage and social affairs department at the oil-rich country’s embassy in Washington. After Hurricane Katrina, the United Arab Emirates donated $100 million to US relief efforts.

The United Arab Emirates pledged $500,000 toward the district’s computer initiative, and up to another $500,000 to match similar donations.

The district, which set a $2.7 million fund-raising goal for the initiative, will supplement the money it is receiving from the United Arab Emirates with proceeds from its insurance settlement, Bessendorfer said.

District officials have been planning how to continue serving the 2,200 displaced high school students. In addition to the high school, the tornado destroyed two other school buildings and badly damaged seven others.

Half of the high school students will attend classes in an empty big-box store near the city’s mall. Freshmen and sophomores will attend class in a vacant school building that was spared major damage.

Al Marashi hopes the gift will start a long-term relationship with the southwestern Missouri city, with future programs to include cultural exchanges.

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