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MINIER — First-grade students at Olympia West Elementary School cheered Wednesday when they learned they will get some new interactive technology, thanks to a grant from Ameren.

"They didn't really know what they were cheering for, but there were cheering," said teacher Staci Steiger. "I'm just thrilled."

The class will get a Smart Technologies board, the first in the 377-square-mile Olympia School District. It is expected to arrive in January.

When hooked to a computer and projector, the board operates like a 72-inch screen that students and teachers simply touch to operate.

The gift, worth about $5,000, is part of $900,000 Ameren is giving schools in Illinois and Missouri to provide technology and support to classrooms and teachers. Funding covers the costs of the white boards, installation, a cart and initial training.

Steiger is looking forward to letting her students use the touch screen and enjoy its interactive features, especially when she is teaching early math concepts. It will be a good addition to paper and pencil, she said. She will be able to save the materials and print things out for children to take home.

The Minier school is among 100 schools that will receive an interactive white board from Ameren's Power Up Program, which awards these and other grants twice a year.

Within six months of the board's installation, the school must send atleast one lesson plan to the Smart Technologies Inc. Web site. The lesson plans are made available to other teachers.

Other area schools to benefit from the program are Holy Trinity Junior High, Bloomington; Deer Creek-Mackinaw, Mackinaw; Trinity Catholic Academy, LaSalle; Zion Lutheran, Mount Pulaski; Epiphany, Normal; Tremont; Lowpoint-Washburn Junior High, Washburn.

Holy Trinity also is getting its first Smart board, said parent Marie Blaser, a member of the school's technology committee.

Dee-Mack primary and junior high students are already comfortable with the interactive tool, of which 10 are scattered through three schools.

"It's a great tool," said Superintendent Steve Yarnall.

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