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New program will give high-speed internet access to Marion County students

For starters, six schools will take part
Posted at 6:08 PM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 18:20:31-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Starting in February, students who live in homes within two-miles of Marion County schools taking part in a pilot program will have access to high-speed internet.

The six schools in the program are: George Washington High School, Harrison Hill Elementary School, Southport Elementary, Winchester Village Elementary, Riverside High School, and Vision Academy. Ivy Tech Community College is also part of the pilot.

“We are helping students make the most of their education during this very difficult time,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Right now, a quarter of students across Marion county’s 11 school districts do not have adequate internet access at home. That's about 38,000 students. "This is problematic because even under the best of circumstances, e-learning makes it difficult for students to advance academically,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, President and CEO of Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.

Dereka James has been helping her 14-year-old daughter Takira with e-learning throughout this school year. “I actually quit my job to be the teacher for her everyday,” said James.

James says its been challenging and access to free high-speed internet for e-learning would make a huge difference. "It would help because I know a lot of people who lost a job or had to quit a job or aren't working as many hours because of this. We still have bills to pay, we still have to buy food and stuff,” said James.

Students in most districts did receive hotspots to help with e-learning access. We’re told these are working, but this plan is meant to be a permanent fix. "I think long-term for the sustainability and scalability of these one-off ways to solve for the gap right now, it makes more sense to find a more sustainable long-term solution,” said Aleesia Johnson, Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.

If the pilot program is successful the goal is to expand the high speed internet access to all students in Marion county. This would potentially happen in 2022.

Thge money for this is coming from the city and community partners. The city is funding the pilot with $730,000 in federal CARES Act funding. The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation gave $500,000, and Lilly Endowment contributed $330,000, with the remaining $100,000 coming from the Indiana 5G Zone.

Long-term funding for the program if it is implemented county-wide is yet to be determined.