School districts join forces to seek grant
Harrison County’s three public school corporations are teaming up to try to earn up to $750,000 in grants to help students with internet access for eLearning. The grant is part of a recently announced initiative by Gov. Eric Holcomb to help schools for the upcoming academic year.
The Harrison County Board of Commissioners voted Monday morning during its regular meeting to sign a letter of support, requested by Lanesville Community Schools digital learning coach Allison Schalk.
Schalk said her district, along with North Harrison and South Harrison Community School corporations, are working together because the state announced applications that include all public school districts in a county will receive priority for funding.
The $61.6 million initiative, from federal CARES Act funding, will help schools purchase devices for remote learning for K-12 students, develop community-level solutions to address gaps in internet connectivity and further equip educators with the tools to create remote learning curriculum.
Schools in Harrison County are focused on improving internet access so more students can have a reliable connection from home.
Schalk said the districts recently polled parents in the county and have already had 1,9000 responses.
“Only 58.8% say they have reliable internet in Harrison County,” Schalk said.
The top two reasons people don’t have internet are costs and availability at their homes. According to Schalk, most people said they didn’t have a reliable option available.
The survey so far has found 12% of parents don’t have internet options and about 30% said their internet options aren’t reliable.
“We clearly had a problem last (school) year with eLearning at the end of the school year,” Schalk said.
The plan calls for a variety of measures to get more students online.
One step is to purchase transmission devices that the schools can install throughout the county.
“We want an option that is not a hot spot or satellite,” Schalk said, adding hot spots often don’t provide the internet speeds students need to do their assignments.
Schools reached out to a few companies about this plan, but only one has responded, Schalk said. This company would add internet transmission sites, and the schools want the commissioners to consider these devices being placed on county properties.
Schalk said this wouldn’t help every student in Harrison County.
Another step is to look for solutions to reduce costs for families that qualify for family assistance benefits.
Finally, the grant would also purchase hot spot devices, that get a connection through a cellphone provider, that would be divided among the three school corporations and each administration could help the families who need help. Schalk said the request is for 25 to 30 devices for the county to share. If these families can’t get a cellphone connection at home, they could drive somewhere to establish a connection and have students work on assignments.
“It’s not a luxury anymore,” Schalk said about the need for home internet access. “It is a necessity.”
The commissioners said they would want to see specific locations for where the transmitters might get placed.
Commissioner Charlie Crawford made the motion to support the grant application and at least hear where the transmitters might go.
Commissioner Jim Heitkemper questioned if this would break any part of the county’s contract with Mainstream Fiber Networks, but said they can deal with that later if it becomes an issue.
Heitkemper seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously.
The grant application has to be submitted by Friday, July 17.
The commissioners are scheduled to meet next at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 20, at the government center.