There are more than 4,400 miles between Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, and Seward, Alaska, according to MapQuest.

Thanks to the technology of distance learning, that gap was bridged for students at Tamaqua Elementary School.

The Tamaqua Area School District's elementary students are participating in a distance learning project this month with the Alaska SeaLife Center, located in Seward.

Through the program, Tamaqua Area students are taking a virtual visit to a facility on the other side of the North American continent.

Steven Behr, Tamaqua Elementary principal, said that the district has had the technical capability to incorporate distance learning into its curriculum.

"We got the equipment through a grant that the I.U. (Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29) had received," said Behr.

Previously, the distance learning equipment was utilized to connect faculty meetings and classrooms between the school district's three elementary schools: Tamaqua, Rush Elementary in Hometown and West Penn Elementary, near Snyders.

"This is the next step in the progression," noted Behr.

In order to emphasize the possibilities available for distance learning, Behr search the Internet and found the Alaska SeaLife Center offered such a program.

"I was searching for a distance learning activity online, and I thought, the farther away, the better," explained Behr. "I felt that would drive home the idea of how we want to use it."

Each session with the Alaska SeaLife Center costs $160, but Tamaqua Area was able to purchase 42 sessions at $100 each, noted Behr.

The money for the distance learning sessions was earned by the students themselves, with funds raised through the Raider Run, in which the students found sponsors to support them with pledged dollars as they walked laps.

On Monday, teacher Janet Smetana's second-grade class was one at Tamaqua Elementary that took part in a one-hour session with Alaska SeaLife Center.

Using a device called a Polycom unit, which contains a camera, speaker and a microphone, the students were able to see, hear and talk to Adrienne from the SeaLife Center in real time.

Adrienne was able to point out to students where Seward was on a map of North America, then conducted a lesson on marine mammal adaptations, discussing animals such as otters, seals and steller sea lions.

Through the use of cameras at the Alaska facility, the students were able to see the sea lions and seals swimming around in their tanks as Adrienne discussed their characteristics.

Students were able to answer her questions and follow directions as to how to create their own seals out of the clay kits they were given.

The students also had a chance to ask questions as well. One asked Adrienne, who is originally from Massachusetts, what it was like in Alaska.

"There are bigger mountains, less people and more snow," she answered.

The connection with the SeaLife Center will continue throughout the month. Behr sees it as just the beginning for distance learning on the elementary level.

"I hope that our teachers will be inspired to find things that they can fit into their curriculum," he added.