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Leveraging High-Speed Broadband to Connect Students and Communities to Their Futures

Leveraging High-Speed Broadband to Connect Students and Communities to Their Futures

Customer Success Story

How Three Indiana School Systems and One Public Library Are Transforming the Learning
Landscapes in Their Rural Communities.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” School and library leaders in Southern Indiana are embracing this philosophy and are leveraging high-quality broadband and technology to redefine and transform their learning environments into future-ready spaces that meet the diverse learning needs of their students and patrons. Below are the stories of three Indiana school corporations and one public library who are breathing new life and opportunities into their rural communities through the provisioning of robust broadband access to online instructional resources and applications. With funding assistance from the federal School and Libraries Program, otherwise known as E-rate, these institutions of learning are all undergoing massive digital transformations that are already producing positive outcomes for their respective local communities.

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East Washington School Corporation

E-rate discount rate: 70 percent
Student enrollment: 1,471

Located in one of the poorest counties in the region, East Washington School Corporation (East Washington) has adopted a “no excuses” attitude toward the socioeconomic climate of its community. “We have two choices,” says East Washington Superintendent Dennis Stockdale. “We can use poverty as an excuse, or we can step up as a school corporation and provide our students with the same opportunities that are available to those students who reside in more affluent communities. We’ve chosen the latter.”

When Superintendent Stockdale arrived in East Washington just a couple of months ago, he immediately revisited the school corporation’s device roadmap. “The original plan was to launch a one-to-one deployment in three to five years,” says Stockdale. “We’ve quickly revamped that original plan, and our goal now is to be fully one-to-one by the start of the 2017/18 school year. In order to achieve that goal, we’ve got to have the infrastructure in place to support the technology.”

East Washington has already made significant strides to ensure its students have the broadband access they need to facilitate online learning. Just three years ago, the school corporation was operating on 50 Mbps Internet access speeds. Today, East Washington provides 200 Mbps speeds to its educators and students—an impressive increase of 400 percent.

“Having slow connectivity is like driving from the Ohio River to the Michigan state line on a two-lane country road,” says Superintendent Stockdale. “You have to throttle it down so much that students don’t have the opportunity to explore and gain the knowledge they need to know to grow and thrive. We have to create robust connected learning environments for our students. Many of our families lack Internet access outside of the school building because we are surrounded by hills and valleys. Also, we don’t have a public library in our city. If our school system doesn’t meet the needs of our students, and if we don’t create personalized learning opportunities for them, there are very few options open to them to grow and see their future potential.”

Funding from the federal E-rate program has enabled East Washington to speed up its digital conversion. “Having that funding helps us secure and grow our infrastructure,” says Superintendent Stockdale. East Washington’s Director of Technology and Integration Katie Hutchinson agrees. “I asked our teachers what their biggest fear about working with technology was, and ninety percent of them said that they were scared it wouldn’t work,” says Hutchinson. “We have to make sure it works so that our teachers, kids, and parents aren’t scared it’s going to fail. E-rate funding helps us do that by making sure the
access is there when we need it.”

The Internet is opening the door to new learning possibilities for this Indiana school corporation. “We have students taking courses online,” says Hutchinson. “I run a technology club, and they are all getting different types of certifications and getting their drone licenses. We have a student who has successfully 3D printed three different mouth pieces for three different instruments. Those opportunities don’t exist without Internet access.”

Superintendent Stockdale and Hutchinson are both excited about what the future holds in store for their school corporation. “The next step is changing the pedagogy,” says Stockdale. “We are moving into interdisciplinary, collaborative learning environments in all of our buildings. For me, that is where the rubber meets the road. Our kids will be able to take the skills they have acquired and use them to take ownership of their learning and become creative and collaborative problem-solvers.”

paoli-students

Paoli Community School Corporation

E-rate discount rate: 80 percent
Student enrollment: 1,566

As a former classroom teacher and principal with Paoli Community School Corporation (Paoli), Superintendent Casey Brewster recognized the need to grow and develop Paoli’s technology platform in order to ensure his students were sufficiently college and career-ready upon graduation. Not only has the district brought its fiber network up to speed over the last five years, Paoli has also deployed a district-wide one-to-one initiative and integrated a building-wide managed Wi-Fi service, enabling educators to leverage innovative mobile and beacon technologies to improve instruction, reduce costs, and enhance learning opportunities.

Building a solid technology infrastructure that effectively supports 21st century learning has been a top priority for Paoli. In 2010, the district had just three T1 circuits in place that supplied 4.5 Mbps Internet access speeds to the entire school corporation. Jump forward five years to now and the district has a fiber-optic line in place that provides 100 Mbps speeds, as well as a robust, high-capacity managed Wi-Fi network. “Having access to high-speed Internet has been incredibly important for us,” says Superintendent Brewster. “It is one thing to access information online, it is another thing to have 1,500 students downloading or uploading documents or resources on a daily basis. When we were operating on only 15 or 20 Mbps speeds, it slowed down our learning environments and sucked the innovative spirit out of the activities and lessons. Teachers either tried to use technology and it didn’t work, which was deflating, or they didn’t even attempt to use it because they were worried it wouldn’t work. Neither was a good situation. We upped our Internet access speed because we don’t ever want our students and staff to wonder if the Internet is going to be fast enough to accomplish what they need to accomplish.”

Superintendent Brewster anticipates that his school corporation’s broadband usage will continue to increase over the next few years. “I’ll be surprised if we don’t have a need to exceed 200 Mbps within the next year,” says Superintendent Brewster. “Our ability to connect to the Internet has changed nearly every aspect of our learning environments. Our teachers communicate with each other differently. They are not printing out large amounts of paper—saving us thousands of dollars. As we continue to use more online resources and Software as a Service [SaaS] solutions, we will need to have more access.”

Paoli is in the midst of an impressive digital transformation, and Superintendent Brewster attributes much of the school corporation’s success to the federal E-rate program. “E-rate is the difference between us having a few computer labs to rolling out devices to every single student from kindergarten to twelfth grade,” says Superintendent Brewster. “It’s impacted us at every turn. Because our broadband and Wi-Fi expenses are off-set by E-rate, we are able to allocate more money toward professional development for our staff and hire e-learning coaches to support our digital initiatives. Also, we received a digital learning grant from the Indiana Department of Education in 2014, and I think one of the principal reasons we were selected as a recipient was because of the work we’d already done as a result of E-rate.”

Superintendent Brewster is excited about all the positive changes he’s seeing around his district. “Our philosophy has always been that it’s not about the technology, the device, or the Internet—those are all just tools. It’s about the students and seeing and hearing them engage with content in meaningful, creative, and personal ways. Having access to the Internet and their devices connects them to the content and helps prepare them for the future.”

paoli-student

South Harrison Community School Corporation

E-rate discount rate: 70 percent
Student enrollment: 3,175

Located in rural Southern Indiana, South Harrison Community School Corporation (South Harrison) is taking tremendous steps to level the digital playing field for all of its students—and it’s working! This past year, one South Harrison senior graduated with thirty dual college credits plus a significant scholarship to the college of his choice. A noteworthy accomplishment for any student, this achievement is particularly remarkable because the student is one of the first members of his family to graduate high school, let alone attend college. Breaking generational cycles requires a tremendous amount of effort and dedication, both on the part of the student and the school district. Presenting students with personalized learning opportunities facilitates that process by opening the door to an endless amount of possibilities.

South Harrison’s digital transformation has been a gradual process, but it quickly picked up steam when its new superintendent—Dr. Mark Eastridge—arrived approximately three years ago. “When I started this position, I spoke with a number of teachers, parents, and staff members about how the students were using their laptops,” says Superintendent Eastridge. “One parent remarked that her child used the laptop as a doorstop. That shocked me because our students had these wonderful devices that they weren’t using at all. Most of them weren’t even charging them.”

After speaking with his teachers, Superintendent Eastridge quickly identified the problem—the school system didn’t have the infrastructure in place to support the technology. “When I spoke with our teachers, they told me that our Wi-Fi was unreliable and that the Internet was too slow,” says Eastridge. “If they were going to integrate technology into their instruction, they had to create two lesson plans—one if the technology worked and one if the technology failed. Teaching is hard enough as it is. Teachers don’t have time to create extra lesson plans—the technology should just work.”

Superintendent Eastridge has since leveraged critical E-rate funds to increase South Harrison’s Internet access speeds from less than 100 Mbps to 500 Mbps. “If we didn’t have E-rate, we couldn’t provide the access that our students need to learn effectively,” says Eastridge. “We’d have to make some very difficult decisions in terms of our resources. E-rate has enabled us to shift our budget dollars toward supporting and growing other programs that rely on reliable and robust Internet access.”

South Harrison’s career readiness program is one program that has grown by leaps and bounds since the school system increased its broadband connectivity. “We purchased Naviance, a career planning software, to support our college and career readiness initiative,” says Superintendent Eastridge. “Choosing a career is one of those fundamental decisions that really influences the direction of your entire life. As a school system, we play a role in helping students make that choice. If you asked a student twenty years ago what they wanted to do in terms of a career, many times they didn’t know. The prevailing thought was they’d go to college and figure it out there. We can’t do that anymore. If that happens, we are committing our students to $20,000, $30,000, or $40,000 of debt. That’s [also] why we’ve launched into our dualcredit program so vigorously.”

south-harrison-graduation

Through its college and career readiness program, South Harrison is providing its students with the resources they need to make informed decisions about their career pathways. “Without robust Internet access, this program wouldn’t be what it is today,” says Superintendent Eastridge. “In the past, we had to parse out access because more than two students couldn’t view Naviance’s video resources simultaneously without experiencing the dreaded ‘wheel of death.’ That was unacceptable to me. My job is to make sure access is there.” Fast forward two years and the program is now thriving, with South Harrison’s students even making a video highlighting their successes and what the program did for them in terms of their career paths.

Increased connectivity has also enabled South Harrison to integrate Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a program that provides transformative, hands-on learning experiences that empower students to develop the in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive. In the vein of PLTW, the school system is hoping to transform one of its schools into a STEM academy in the near future.

“We need a lot of access for our kids,” says Superintendent Eastridge. “Our teachers weren’t using the technology before, and I don’t blame them. It wasn’t working. We’ve jumped our bandwidth almost ten times to give them that access. Now that those pieces are in place, we can take the next steps. We’ve hired an eLearning coach to support our teachers. We’ve started using the SAMR model to supplement instruction. We now have a technology committee in place that is made up of administrators and
educators who oversee the direction we are going with technology, and that group is also responsible for refreshing our technology vision. None of this would have been possible without the access. It has opened a door for us that wasn’t there before.”

Putnam County Public Library

Nestled in the heart of Greencastle, Indiana, Putnam County Public Library (PCPL) serves as the connectivity and cultural hub for many of the community’s rural residents. The library recently transformed its children’s department into the Imagination Portal, an interactive technological playground with an emphasis on digital literacy. This new youth services library allows for collaborative digital creativity such as movie making and music production; exploratory learning through emerging medias including video games, eBooks, web applications, and movies; hands-on experiential programming including performances, arts, and crafts; cooking and culinary studies; and lively story-time events. The Imagination Portal combines the spirit of discovery and learning inherent in the traditional literary experience with the excitement of technological transformation and immersion.

PCPL Director Grier Carson spearheaded the library’s transformation. “When I started, there was very little integration of consumer technology within the children’s space,” says Carson. “I think we had a single iPad that nobody used. We had patron computers and AWE™ Early Literacy Stations, but that was it.”

Overhauling PCPL’s existing network infrastructure was one of Carson’s first priorities. The library used E-rate funds to increase its Internet access from 10 Mbps to 70 Mbps. Carson also decided to replace PCPL’s locally managed wireless network with ENA Air, Education Networks of America’s turnkey Wi-Fi service. “We had a patchwork of common wireless routers installed throughout the library that we managed ourselves. It was really inconsistent. When our equipment went down, we had to replace the components ourselves. Last year we flipped that on its ear. We deployed ENA Air for Wi-Fi management, and we started outsourcing other services. This has been very effective in terms of managing the network and utilizing technology staff efficiently. I would much rather have my technology team members assisting our patrons with technology or planning future network improvements instead of managing network equipment all day.”

Carson understands the necessity of having a reliable and robust infrastructure in place at his library. “It is sometimes difficult for people to understand why building an infrastructure is so important because there is no immediate payoff,” says Carsen. “It is not viewed as a priority in terms of the budget because it is not visible. I think that is a mistake because a library’s infrastructure is critical. Our new technology plan focuses on that and our library board fully understands that as well. One of our primary goals is to maintain and support a robust infrastructure. We do not want our network to come to a grinding halt in five years when almost everything requires wireless access of some kind. I do not want to have to reallocate funding in order to get our network up to speed. We are preparing for the future now.”

Carson believes that today’s libraries need to evolve to meet the needs and demands of their future-ready patrons. “I don’t think it’s wise for libraries to sit back and be a sanctuary from the cacophony of the digital world,” says Carson. “I think we need to do the opposite. We need to expose our patrons to the world online and the world of culture, media, and global communication. It is our duty to provide patrons with the tools they need to navigate the world successfully. In our own county, we are trying to close the digital divide by providing our community’s residents with access to devices and online content that they do not have at home. We provide technology instruction through a series of free basic computer and digital literacy programs. In all respects, we’re emphasizing access to and meaningful use of digital technologies.”

Libraries are on the precipice of a digital leap, and it is imperative that they take the steps now to prepare for the future. “In order to avoid massive skill set discrepancies across our citizenry, public libraries are going to have to become places where everyone can go to get free and equitable access to resources like the Internet,” says Carson. “What we have accomplished in our children’s department, our technology instruction and support program, and through increased integration of technology across almost all of our services, sets the stage for what PCPL will be doing for the next decade. Our library will become a place where patrons can be creative, collaborate with their peers, and explore the world around them. That is how we are going to [engage] the next generation of library users.”

As the managed Internet service provider for the above organizations as well as hundreds of school districts and libraries across the country, ENA has the honor of helping our education and library communities identify, plan for, and meet their broadband infrastructure needs. Empowered by solutions that save them time, money, and frustration, ENA’s customers can focus on what matters most: preparing students, strengthening communities, and building leading educational enterprises.


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