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updated 8/10/2011 7:33:00 PM ET 2011-08-10T23:33:00

The United Arab Emirates has 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 department 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, announced Tuesday, 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.

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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 U.S. 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 fundraising goal for the initiative, will supplement the money it's receiving from the United Arab Emirates with proceeds from its insurance settlement, Bessendorfer said.

That portion of the settlement money would otherwise have been used for textbooks, many of which will now be obsolete because of the computers.

"They have big ideas about what they think the school can be like," she said, referring to the teachers and students.

Despite the tragedy and hardship their community 140 miles (225 kilometers) south of Kansas City has endured, district officials say summer school enrollment was unusually large and the fall semester is on track to begin Aug. 17.

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

"I don't want this to be a one-off investment," she said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: In Joplin, food bank feeling the pinch

  1. Closed captioning of: In Joplin, food bank feeling the pinch

    >>> last night we showed you this extraordinary security camera video showing the destruction at the only high school in joplin , missouri the moment that huge twister tore through town. hard to believe it's been three months now and the good folks there have made a lot of progress cleaning up the mess left behind. but so many people are still struggling. donations of all kinds, poured in right after the storm, always happens, but now things have slowed down. our progress report comes in nbc's ron mott.

    >> as corn slowly rises under a hot southwest missouri sun, at a warehouse, supplies are shrinking as another load the loaded up to meet the area's surge in hunger.

    >> reporter: we're sending three truckloads of food every day to joplin and at this point that's going to really tap us out very quickly.

    >> demand for aid has doubled in the region, from 1 million town a month to 2 million pounds. lisa dunn's family has occasionally relied on donated food to help ends meet after losing their home to the storm.

    >> reporter: people that do this on an every day basis, working to get the next meal for their family, i don't know how they do it. how do you not shut down and say i can't just do it anymore?

    >> now living in an apartment --

    >> reporter: everything i had, i worked hard for. and it's all gone. and i have learned from people to accept help.

    >> the need for food has stayed strong here because the tornado not only took lives and destroyed homes, it avblffected an estimated 5,000 jobs, and until those return, much like these neighborhoods, getting back to norm system a long way off. like the dunn's church, transformed into an emporium of food clothes and other basic needs.

    >> reporter: it's about the people, it's not about the church carpet getting ruined or anything. it's about serving people and loving people.

    >> and also president hope in the aftermath of such devastation.

    >> reporter: i want people to know that it's not going to be, oh, this happened, the rest of our life is going to be horrible. the rest of our life is going to look up, not down.

    >> a community hungry to ease the pangs of disaster.

    >> reporter: and joplin officials announced today they have received a $500,000 gift from the united arab emirates to help buy a new lap top for every one of their 2,200 high school students. the uae will also match future donations for lap tops. so for all of our viewer who is wish to join in and help, there's more on how you can help on our website, nightly.nbc.com. that is our

    >>

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