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Opening ceremony for Willow Hill Center’s Outdoor Learning Pavilion 4 p.m. Friday
AL HACKLE/staff Dr. Alvin Jackson, Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center board president, talks about the center's mission and need for support while seated in the new "COVID-Safe Outdoor Classroom" pavilion.
Dr. Alvin Jackson, Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center board president, talks about the center's mission and need for support while seated in the new "COVID-Safe Outdoor Classroom" pavilion. The Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, at the center near Portal for the center’s new outdoor-learning pavilion. - photo by AL HACKLE/file

The Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, at the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center near Portal for the center’s new outdoor-learning pavilion.

The ceremony also celebrates the launch of "Closing the Digital Divide in Rural Bulloch County" learning opportunities for school-age children at the nonprofit center, which occupies the building and grounds of the historic Willow Hill School at 4235 Willow Hill Rd.

In October 2020, the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS, awarded the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center a two-year CARES Act grant of $109,420. This was to cover the cost of two part-time employees, laptop computers, Wi-Fi access and desktop computers and workstations for the Closing the Digital Divide effort.

The plan is to expand internet access and improve educational opportunities for children in the Portal area who fell behind while learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and whose families have limited or no access to broadband internet services or digital devices.

Heidi Altman, PhD., a Georgia Southern University associate professor of anthropology, worked with the Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center to apply in June 2020 for the IMLS grant. Georgia Southern students also work as interns and volunteers with the center, which has made an agreement with the university for further collaboration.

In March, the Nordson Foundation awarded the Willow Hill Center a separate $25,000 grant on its application to “provide internet access to students in an outdoor environment.” This covered the cost of building the pavilion but not of providing electricity and fans, the Willow Hill Center’s leadership noted in a news release.

With further support from donors, the outdoor learning center is being equipped with tables, electricity and fans, and drinking water will be supplied in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the release states.

The roofed, but open-sided pavilion, occupying the full area of a regulation-size basketball court it replaced, was proposed as a "COVID-Safe Outdoor Classroom."

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