Broadband group says, ‘Get Connected Putnam County’
The Putnam County Broadband Task Force, now a formally named initiative, Get Connected Putnam County, has met four times and is in the process of pursuing the GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) Grant to assist community schools and families with a widespread challenge related to use of technology and the changing landscape of education due to COVID-19.
The group, headed by Greencastle school’s technology integration specialist C.J. Shields, is focused specifically on the challenge of connectedness and reliable internet access for students, especially those in areas of the county without broadband or transportation to businesses that provide internet access.
Putnam County schools qualify for the GEER Grant’s “Component 1” funding to include assistance with take-home device purchases for students and staff, providing off-campus access to internet through purchases of mobile hot-spots, wireless service plans and community WiFi networks and also providing accessibility hardware for students with disabilities.
The initiative has partnered with local internet service providers Endeavor Communications and Parke County REMC, which support a large number of county school students.
“Connectedness is a challenge I witness firsthand when I travel to the county schools as a representative for Ivy Tech,” task force member and Greencastle City Councilor Jake Widner said. “Students explain to me over and over that they struggle to get their work done at home due to lack of stable internet connection or no internet at all.”
Shields expressed similar sentiments from his experiences.
“For Putnam County to be successful, an initiative like this would require a county-wide effort,” Shields noted, also explaining the importance of the initiative’s focus on virtual education. “Virtual education, in its many forms, has been on the horizon for over a decade. COVID forced us to accelerate toward virtual options and obtaining a GEER grant would be a huge asset for our students as they continue to build the skills that will be necessary in the future.”
Get Connected Putnam County has engaged with a local grant writer, Keshia Seitz (Five Star Technology) to assist in the process. Seitz expressed her support for the initiative.
“#GetConnectedPutnamCounty seeks to develop a comprehensive community-level solution to address gaps in internet connectivity for distance/remote learning,” Seitz said. “I’m excited to see so many organizations working together to apply for GEER funding to help solve this connectivity problem in our community. Together, we are working to create awesome learning experiences for kids.”
Get Connected Putnam County volunteer members include school superintendents Bruce Bernhardt (South Putnam), Greg Linton (Cloverdale), Jeff Gibboney (Greencastle) and Nicole Singer (North Putnam). Other county school representatives include Jenny French, Tona Gardner, Annie Burns, Cory Hill, C.J. Shields and Tammy Surber. Higher education representatives include Jake Widner from Ivy Tech and Travis Linneweber from DePauw. Endeavor Communications is represented by Justin Clark and Parke County REMC by Chad Jenkins. Matt McClelland from the Putnam County Public Library is also heavily engaged in the process.
Community organizations that have stepped up to support Get Connected Putnam County include Ivy Tech Community College, the Putnam County Public Library, Rotary Club of Greencastle, Family Support Services of West Central Indiana, United Way of Putnam County, Putnam County Habitat for Humanity, Putnam County Hospital, Family Support Services of West Central Indiana and the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
The initiative encourages the community to use the hashtag #GetConnectedPutnamCounty to promote their cause in social media posts and is looking to further engage more community partners in their efforts in the coming months