A new distance-learning initiative at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum aims to engage more students from across the state with books and digital content.

Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette said making educational programming more accessible to South Carolina students is "essential" to the museum's mission. The new initiative, Burdette said, will make it easier for students who otherwise wouldn't have access to the museum.

"With the travel cost associated with bringing children from the four corners of the state, we would always be limited with how many children we could reach," he said. "It is a lot more cost-effective and certainly more practical given the cost to move children throughout the state."

The new effort involves schools from 33 counties that will receive copies of history and science books produced by the Patriots Point Education Department. The schools also will participate in live streaming webinars from the museum where students will take virtual tours and talk with museum staff.

The museum has also launched a new education website that offers free downloads of the books as well as related videos and supplemental materials for teachers such as vocabulary lists and history trivia.

"This is personalized learning," said Keith Grybowski, director of education at Patriots Point.

The initiative is free to participating schools. It is being paid for with $415,000 in state funding. The funding will go toward paying for the website, a studio and digital equipment for the webinars and up to 20,000 books for fifth-grade classes at one school from each of the participating counties.

The goal, Grybowski said, is to provide engaging content with an eye toward helping improve literacy among fifth-graders and mastery of state educational standards for history and science.

"It brings every chapter to life," he said.

Pinckney Elementary in Mount Pleasant is among the schools piloting the initiative this school year. Mary Huffman, who teaches fifth-grade social studies, reading and writing at the school, is hoping to use the books and digital content as a way to reinforce the lessons and activities her students receive when they visit Patriots Point. All Charleston County fifth-graders take a field trip to the maritime museum, she said.

"It will be an entire 10-month experience where they're going to pick up the book and use it throughout the school year, and then pick up the lessons using the new technology," she said.

John Hodge, principal at Campobello-Gramling School in Spartanburg, which is also participating in the initiative, also hopes the program will help his fifth-grade students have a better experience at the museum during their an annual field trip. In years past, Hodge said, teachers at his school have felt like the experience has been rushed.

"They felt like the kids ran through it very quickly," he said. "Hopefully this information will help them focus on it during the school year so when they get there they will have already studied it and it's going to be more real to them."