Claire Fiddian-Green is the President & CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.
Optimistically, many of us believed in late March that a two-week shutdown of business and schools due to the COVID-19 virus would cause some disruption to our daily lives but would be a wise investment in stemming the impact of the first international pandemic in modern history. Four months later, the economy is slowly reopening, but with no foreseeable return to normalcy.
The impact of COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone, including educators who were forced to implement plans for full-scale remote learning literally overnight. The impact has also been challenging for students, who had to adapt to learning from home while social distancing from friends and teachers. It has been a particular challenge for students who lack internet connectivity or devices and therefore cannot effectively participate in eLearning.
As the start of a new school year approaches and cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, it has become increasingly clear that some form of eLearning will be the reality for all schools, teachers and students. Given this “new normal,” it is incumbent upon us to provide the necessary resources to educators and families to support student success while we continuously adapt to the rapidly evolving public health crisis.
It is critically important that we unite forces to work quickly and collaboratively – across sectors, geographic boundaries and other dividing lines – to address eLearning needs for schools and families. Preliminary research indicates that students across the U.S. will enter the upcoming school year with approximately 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math. The study’s authors expect an even greater learning loss for children from low-income families, many of whom lack access to technology, as well as for students of color. What this research highlights is that – not only do we need to address the needs of students everywhere whose learning did not progress at a standard rate during quarantine – we must also intensify our efforts to address persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.
Recognizing as early as the end of March that schooling was likely going to look different for at least the next 12 to 18 months, a collaborative of local funders and nonprofit organizations launched the Indianapolis eLearning Fund (“the Fund”) on April 8th in partnership with the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation. The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation is proud to be one of the founding contributors and advisors to the Fund. To date, the Fund has raised $3.5 million in grants and donations. The focus of the Fund is two-fold: addressing internet connectivity and device needs for public school students in Marion County, and addressing the eLearning needs of educators and families from public and private schools, statewide.
In May, the Fund conducted a survey of public and private school teachers from across the state and found that 90% of teachers are interested in accessing professional development focused on eLearning and 93% are interested in connecting with other educators to discuss best practices for remote instruction. In addition, more than 80% of respondents reported challenges keeping students engaged in eLearning.
In response to these survey findings, the Fund initiated a competitive RFP process to identify a partner to design, launch and operate the Indiana eLearning Lab, which was conceived of as a dynamic, virtual hub providing resources and training for educators and families. This week, the Fund announced the launch of the Indiana eLearning Lab with a $1.6 million funding allocation. The Fund was joined by the College Football Playoff Foundation, which announced an $800,000 grant in support of the Lab. This combined $2.4 million in grant funding will enable educators and families to access the Indiana eLearning Lab for free during the 2020-21 school year. Lab partners will help to seek additional grant funding with the goal of extending this free access into the 2021-22 school year.
The Indiana eLearning Lab is core to the mission of the Indianapolis eLearning Fund, and also aligns with the CFP Foundation’s longstanding focus on elevating the teaching profession by inspiring and empowering teachers in four core areas: resources, recognition, recruitment, and professional development. Together, the Fund and the CFP Foundation – in partnership with the 2022 Indy CFP Host Committee – aim to assist Hoosier educators and families in navigating as successfully as possible through the current COVID-19 landscape. This collaborative spirit exemplifies the kinds of partnerships that are required to help us emerge from this dual public health and economic crisis stronger than before.
To access the Indiana eLearning Lab and to learn more about the CFP Foundation’s partnership with the Fund and the Indy CFP Host Committee, visit.