From Pandemic to College Football Playoff:
The Story of the Indiana Learning Lab
Written by Billy Bass
Director of Marketing
Five Star Technology Solutions
For many people across the country, March means three things: warmer weather, spring break, and college basketball.
As we gear up for the conclusion of March Madness and the excitement of watching student-athletes put it all on the line, it’s easy to forget that a little over two months ago the College Football Playoff took Indianapolis by storm. And while the game was the highlight of the year for two top-tier college football teams, it also marked the culmination of an education-focused partnership built closer to home.
When Indianapolis won the bid for the 2022 College Football Playoff Championship game, it committed to elevating teachers statewide through legacy projects that would further the mission of the College Football Playoff Foundation, Extra Yard for Teachers. The CFP Foundation’s commitment to professional development, coupled with the unique challenges teachers faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, paved the way for the Indianapolis Host Committee to help fund the creation of the Indiana Learning Lab as its premiere legacy project. Paired with its support of Teach Indy’s efforts to recruit and retain teachers in Center Township in Indianapolis, the College Football Playoff Foundation sought and succeeded in meeting some of the most urgent needs of Indiana educators.
Five Star Technology Solutions became the partner through which the Foundation’s goals were able to become a reality in Indiana. With digital learning still new for so many teachers and students, the hardworking leaders, software developers, and licensed educators at Five Star worked tirelessly to ensure the Lab was up and running before the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. One of those hardworking people was April Harper, who managed the partnership with the College Football Playoff Foundation and 2022 Indianapolis Host Committee.
“The need was so great at the beginning of the pandemic to support teachers and parents, many of whom were experiencing digital learning for the very first time,” said April. “This software was able to do just that through live chats with our professional development team, live and on-demand workshops on relevant topics, lesson ideas, digital learning resources, and professional growth points tracking, so that educators’ time is valued for all the effort they put into their own development.”
The Lab was created and originally funded by the members of the Indianapolis eLearning Fund, but providing a free platform for teachers and families filled with thousands of resources and multiple interactive elements is a costly endeavor. Thankfully, the College Football Playoff Foundation saw the value and potential in the Learning Lab and stepped up in a big way. Through that partnership, Five Star’s team of professional development specialists were able to support educators across the state while engaging more users in the Lab.
“It’s so funny to think about the project because the football game is the very last bit of it and all of the work leading up to it is just about education,” said April. “We were able to give away DonorsChoose gift cards to teachers every day for 100 days leading up to the big game, surprise educators & administrators with lunch for the whole staff for a few different schools, and more. All of that is because of the partnership with the College Football Playoff Foundation.”
When the Indiana Department of Education officially partnered with Five Star on the Indiana Learning Lab at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, the number of users began to grow exponentially. With more educators engaging with resources and workshops on a weekly basis, the Lab team was able to leverage the partnership to an even greater extent, helping to spread the word about the entire lineup of events at the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit taking place on the weekend of the big game.
Hear from April Harper about her experience at the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit
“My personal highlight was the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit on Saturday,” said Harper. “Get Your Teach On is a separate group that works together with Extra Yard for Teachers, but they did a fabulous job inspiring educators with encouraging words, as well as tons of practical ideas to engage students and meet them where they are. It was live-streamed through the Learning Lab and Indiana teachers are still able to access the sessions for free through the links in the Lab.”
“The 5k and the Taste of a Championship were awesome events on Sunday. And I loved getting to talk to other educators and celebrate the Teachers of the Year through those experiences. On the day of the game, we chose one teacher to give National Championship tickets to, and we surprised her at her school that morning. It was so fun. It was so beautiful to hear her heart for her students and how she cares about them and goes the extra mile. She really just exemplified a teacher who knew her students so well.”
Although the game is now just a distant memory, this experience for April and the team at Five Star Technology Solutions won’t soon be forgotten. Teachers and parents continue to flock to the Indiana Learning Lab, which has seen nearly 14,000 users join since September of 2021. For April, the journey has been worth the countless hours spent planning, working, and supporting teachers during unprecedented times.
“This past year and a half, I’ve been able to see how many people are invested in education. People all over the country are struggling right now with how they feel as an educator and how they feel as being in the line of danger with just being there with the pandemic, but also just how exhausted and tired they are because of working so extra hard in order to meet students’ needs, which are even more intense than ever. Working with these groups has me feeling more encouraged that people do care, that there are people who are thinking about this and investing money and investing their time in trying to solve problems that we know are intense and immense. And I just hope that we can support teachers in even the tiniest way to make them know how valued and important they are.”