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Citywide Classroom provides free internet access to South Bend students

| Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Citywide Classroom South Bend (CCSB) is a new initiative created by enFocus that is providing free internet access to students in the South Bend community during this unprecedented time. After receiving a grant of $1.8 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund in September, CCSB has put $1.5 million toward providing internet access to a projected 2,200 homes and 2,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. CCSB currently serves 20 schools in the South Bend area and is planning on adding nine more to the service in the coming week.

Gillian Shaw, program director of research and development for enFocus and Notre Dame ESTEEM alumna, said she realized change was needed in the South Bend community to address the “digital divide,” or the gap between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who do not. With the impact of COVID-19 on education, she said reliable internet service is essential for students, so enFocus partnered with the South Bend community to apply for the GEER grant this past summer. 

“We decided that we needed to apply for this grant opportunity to address the needs of the students in South Bend,” Shaw said. “They’ve been going through a lot with e-learning and having to adjust to that kind of learning environment. [We] identified this opportunity and knew that it was something that needed to happen with the students.”

EnFocus is a non-profit company that focuses on community impact in the South Bend-Elkhart region through innovation. In collaboration with the South Bend Community School Corporations and its director of technology, as well as the City of South Bend Department of Innovation and Technology, enFocus created CCSB and has been working to bridge the “digital divide.”

Madi Rogers, the project manager of CCSB and a second-year innovation fellow at enFocus, has been leading the initiative. CCSB first piloted free internet access in early October, then officially implemented the program on Oct. 2 to the first tier of 10 schools in the area. This week, they began serving 10 more schools and will finish with the third tier of nine schools next week. 

“We predict about 30% of students within South Bend Community School Corporation do not have access to stable internet in their homes, which can be anywhere from 2,700 students to 5,400 students who don’t have access when they’re at home,” Rogers said.

However, this initiative serves more than just students. Along with the shift to online learning, there have also been many people who have adjusted to working at home. Rogers acknowledges that CCSB provides internet access that is available to the entire household and can benefit other family members such as parents or siblings.

“These devices not only benefit the students who are able to do their work and stay active in school, but also can benefit the families, and using the devices to hopefully bridge the digital divide that we’ve seen in South Bend,” Rogers said.

This initiative is helping South Bend adjust to the conditions created by the pandemic. While COVID-19 may have lasting effects on society and the way that education is distributed, Shaw believes that CCSB will have a lasting impact on the post-pandemic world, too, by providing internet access for years to come. For now, Shaw hopes to bridge the technological gap and give each student a chance to maximize their potential.

“CCSB is very important to me because I’ve been working with the South Bend school district for so long, and I know that these students really want to learn and need to learn to be able to succeed in life,” Shaw said. “If [students] don’t have internet in their home, especially when they have to learn at home, it just puts them at an inherent disadvantage, and I think it’s really unfair. When I think about what I can do to ensure that everybody has a chance, this seems like something that really speaks to my heart.”

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