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E-learning sites fill critical gap while school is virtual

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The 60 students who get e-learning help at KIPP Indy’s elementary and middle school on East 30th Street are a small batch of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of students around Marion County who rely on organizations and school districts to provide e-learning support.

KIPP’s learning site is in collaboration with Edna Martin Christian Center (EMCC), which provides staffing support to go along with the school’s teachers. Students receive breakfast, lunch and a snack, and there’s a registered nurse on site.

“We had to act quickly but also with a long-term view of what comprehensive supports needed to be in place,” said Andy Seibert, KIPP’s executive director.

Seibert said KIPP will continue to provide in-person e-learning support as long as school is virtual.

The Marion County Public Health Department said students may be able to return to in-person learning as early as Jan. 4, but some districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools, quickly announced they won’t reopen schools to students that soon.

The Mind Trust has been one of the leaders with e-learning hubs locally. The education nonprofit has partnered with organizations to open 26 Community Learning Sites, which are free for Indianapolis families. The Mind Trust has invested about $488,000 in the learning sites, and Lilly Endowment awarded another $500,000 to help expand the program.

Shannon Williams, senior vice president of community engagement at The Mind Trust, said parents reached out to the organization after the health department’s announcement to say they wouldn’t be comfortable with their students going back to school then. Funding for Community Learning Sites is supposed to last through Jan. 15, but Williams said the organization is prepared to extend that timeline for existing sites and open new sites.

One of The Mind Trust’s partners is Brookside Community Development Corporation, which operates a learning site with a capacity for 55 students, who work in classrooms with five to 10 other students separated by grade.

Andrew Neal, the organization’s COO, said most of the students have parents who work during the day, so even if children were able to stay home for e-learning, they likely wouldn’t have someone there to make sure they stay on task and have what they need.

“It’s pretty incredible to think about the different organizations that are coming together to make this happen,” Neal said. “This is what it was going to take to pull off something of this magnitude. But it’s what we need to do.”

Remotely, an education services company, set up a learning pod on the northwestern edge of Washington Township for homeless students and students in the foster care system. There are currently 10 students, according to Remotely President Jenn Watts.

The learning pod started after Remotely put out a call for anyone needing help with tutoring or e-learning. Students experiencing homelessness are sometimes left alone out of necessity because their parents have to look for a job.

Remotely’s staff started working with School on Wheels, which provides tutoring for students impacted by homelessness, and established the learning pod in late November. College Park Church donated the space in its youth ministry center, which has a soccer field, TVs and a kitchen, and Patachou Foundation provides meals.

For many students, the learning pod is their first opportunity to keep up with e-learning.

“Just getting them on the computer consistently for a week was a win for us,” Watts said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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