By: Scott R. Muri, Ed. D., Superintendent Ector County ISD
About Ector County ISD (ECISD): Ector County ISD strives to inspire and challenge every student to be prepared for success and to be adaptable in an ever-changing society.
Tell us about the relationship between your organization and the Moody Foundation.
Our connection to the Moody Foundation was facilitated by the Odessa Chamber of Commerce. The latest grant provided by the Moody Foundation marks the beginning of our partnership and a relationship we hope to continue and expand. Thanks to the Moody Foundation, we were able to fund the cost of the SpaceX pilot program, which launched in October 2020. We feel that as a school district, there is a moral imperative to serve the kids of Ector County with quality education, and if that means remotely, then we will meet that need.
What is the SpaceX pilot program? How does it work?
ECISD was the first school district to partner with SpaceX in harnessing its Starlink satellite constellation to deliver high-speed, low-latency Internet access for ECISD students. When the project launched, it initially provided free Internet service to 45 families in the Pleasant Farms area of south Ector County. The school district identified the families and facilitated delivery of the necessary equipment to those homes. Residential customers involved in the pilot received satellite-based Internet service along with a hardware kit that consisted of a satellite dish and support hardware.
What does it mean to be the first school district in the US to pilot this emerging technology?
It means many things in different ways for our students, families, and community leaders. Our school district and community have a drive to be innovative and at the forefront in finding ways to better serve our students. This is a bold action that the ECISD Board of Trustees and other committed partners have supported, but it is a testament to how we strongly care to eliminate the digital divide.
How will SpaceX help address the challenges of providing internet to rural communities like Odessa?
We have students who live in these rural communities. ECISD is a district of approximately 32,000 students, and 1 in 5 students rarely or never has reliable Internet access at home. SpaceX has developed technology that uses a constellation of satellites that focus on those rural areas that have no access or only have access to unreliable Internet. They are able to provide much higher performing Internet connection than the type of Internet connections that are currently available for rural communities.
What is the timeline for this pilot program?
In early 2021 we began the rollout to the first ten families. By mid-April, we were shipping equipment to the next set recipients. Currently, we have 43 families connected to Starlink and have expanded the reach of the service from Pleasant Farms in south Ector County to west Odessa, too. We are in the process of identifying up to 75 more eligible families.
Are there opportunities for families to sign up to participate in this pilot program?
We have identified households that can choose to participate in this pilot program. A survey was sent to families to volunteer for the Starlink (SpaceX) service. The families identified will be contacted to let them know they were selected for the pilot.