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Indianapolis announces eLearning network pilot for 6 Marion County schools

Posted at 10:05 AM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 11:24:58-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The City of Indianapolis will launch a $1.7 million eLearning network pilot for students at six Marion County schools in February 2021.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, along with education, philanthropic and business leaders, made the announcement Tuesday.

The Marion County Dedicated Network Pilot will be funded by $730,000 in federal CARES Act funding, $500,000 from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, $330,000 from Lilly Endowment, Inc. and $100,000 from the Indiana 5G Zone, according to the city.

Schools participating in the pilot include George Washington High School, Harrison Hill Elementary School, Southport Elementary School, Winchester Village Elementary School, Riverside High School and Vision Academy. Ivy Tech State College's Indianapolis campus will also be involved.

“As COVID-19 forces students to learn remotely, it’s critical that we do all we can to ensure they remain connected to high-quality eLearning,” Hogsett said. “The Marion County Dedicated Network Pilot marks a significant step by connecting students with high-speed internet and creating the potential for countywide access to support eLearning.”

Indianapolis schools are closed until mid-January 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A needs assessment in April 2020 found more than 38,000 of 152,000 students in Marion County lack high-speed internet access at home.

"Many of our families were and have been disproportionally impacted in a number of ways, and as others have mentioned, the digital divide grew even wider," Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Alessia Johnson said.

Two nonprofits, Energy Systems Network and Indiana 5G Zone, will implement the pilot, and SBA Communications will provide network infrastructure and services.

Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network, said the pilot will initially support 1,500 hotspots. A decision on whether to expand the program throughout Marion County will be made after the pilot ends in September 2021.

Mitchell said 30,000-50,000 students could benefit from an expanded network. He said a countywide network would cost tens of thousands of dollars and likely require a public-private partnership. Funding sources have not been determined.

Click here to watch video of Tuesday's announcement.