Wayne Township schools on the Westside of Indianapolis didn’t do much in the way of online education before the pandemic. Like many school districts across the country, they believe that students learn best in the classroom with their peers and teachers. And while in-person instruction is still the district’s first-choice learning environment, the community banded together quickly last year to keep kids on track with their education using Zoom, Google Meet and other popular digital tools.

“We’ve found out that we can do e-learning now. We’ve done it for a whole year,” said Dr. Jeff Butts, superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township. “So now with greater confidence level that our students can connect at home because of a partnership with the Verizon Innovative Learning schools program, we now feel much more confident that we can have a robust learning experience during an e-learning day where a student is home because of inclement weather or inability to come into school.”

Indiana’s first Verizon Innovative Learning schools

Dr. Butts, other MSD Wayne school officials and representatives from Verizon were on hand at Ben Davis University High School on October 29, to announce that five district schools have joined Verizon Innovative Learning, Verizon’s education initiative addressing barriers to digital inclusion and a key program under Citizen Verizon, the company’s responsible business plan for economic, environmental and social advancement. The program provides hotspots with two-year data plans for students who lack reliable internet access at home, as well as on-demand professional learning opportunities for educators, IT implementation support, and a stipend for an instructional liaison to support teachers.

(Pictured left to right) Sedric Warren and Michael Meier from Verizon, MSD Wayne Superintendent Dr. Jeff Butts, MSD Wayne CTO Pete Just and Steve Samuel, Principal of Ben Davis University High School together at the Verizon Innovative Learning announcement.

“We learned, especially during the pandemic, that the greatest area of inequity is that whole connectivity gap—that extends beyond the pandemic to a time now when we’re really demanding more of our students in terms of utilizing digital resources, so many digital resources here in Wayne Township,” said Pete Just, CTO and COO of MSD Wayne.

Wayne Township schools have participated in programs that give students access to take-home devices like Chromebooks for many years. However, it wasn’t until the rigors of daily at-home instruction during the pandemic that school officials understood the full scope of how many students don’t have access, or have access that is too slow or too expensive to be used for more than a few minutes at a time.

Digital connectivity is a necessity, not a luxury

Take-home assignments or coursework applications that used to be used for five or 10 minutes were suddenly being used for hours and students were running out of allowable minutes if their only way to get online was through a parent’s mobile phone. Digital as a category of skills and lessons have now become a bigger part of how teachers teach and how students learn.

“The pandemic has really magnified our awareness of the need for students to have connectivity,” said Steve Samuel, Principal of Ben Davis University High School. “And for us at Ben Davis University High School, that extends into our partnership with Vincennes University as our students complete dual credit classes and coursework, it extends to internships with Employ Indy outside of our school walls and within the community. Knowing that those students have to have that access, our work as educators sometimes involves removing barriers and our partnership with Verizon and the VILS program absolutely fits that bill and it allows us to remove that barrier for our students.”

More than access, valuable teaching resources too

Principal Samuels noted that the Verizon partnership also has the added benefit of providing a very robust, professional learning catalog that Wayne Township school teachers can take advantage of to ensure that they are on the cutting edge of digital learning and skills that students need to have as they enter a digital workforce.

“This transformative program will help address a significant learning barrier for so many unserved and underserved students by providing access to the technology and resources they need to thrive in a digital world,” said Tupac Hunter, Director of State & Local Government Affairs at Verizon. “Verizon is very proud to help enable students in MSD Wayne Township schools to develop the skills, knowledge and capabilities to pursue their highest ambition and secure a promising future.”

The five Wayne Township schools participating in Verizon Innovative Learning are Ben Davis High School, Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center, Ben Davis University High School, Chapel Hill 7th and 8th Grade Center and Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center. These schools will receive a total of 875 hotspots for students in need of reliable home internet access.