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Nestled deep in Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the land of the Havasupai Indian tribe is home to some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. The Havasupai, which translates to “people of the blue-green waters,” have lived in the canyon for centuries and share their name with the region. Known as a hiker’s paradise that attracts thousands of visitors each year, the Havasupai area is one of the most remote in the U.S., accessible only by horseback, helicopter—or an eight mile hike on foot.
In addition to nearly 150 homes, the village of Supai boasts a lodge, a café, a general store, and a tourist office. Not far from the post office is the Havasupai Elementary School, where it has been a major challenge to obtain substitutes when teachers are required to leave the canyon for days at a time to obtain training. But soon teachers and staff will be accessing training and professional development in a thoroughly modern way that belies the remoteness of a village that receives its mail weekly by horse or mule train.
That’s the beauty of distance learning via satellite broadband. The Havasupai Elementary School recently became the 150th member school of the National Indian Programs Training Center’s (NIPTC) Enhanced Learning and Knowledge Network (ELKNet), which delivers interactive distance learning to Tribal Nations across 25 states. ELKNet is a sub-network of the larger Government Education and Training Network (GETN), a group of U.S. federal agencies that use a common satellite carrier for an interoperable network that shares satellite services, facilities, and programs for distance learning.
Through ELKNet’s interactive video distance learning system, teachers and staff members can participate in training programs and workshops that feature live feeds as well as pre-recorded content. In addition to academic training and professional development, sessions may include health-related curricula such as diabetes prevention and flu season preparation. Students also benefit directly from ELKNet through programs such as the “I Care if You Graduate” series, which features prominent Native American speakers who share their experiences and encourage students to stay in school and go on to graduate. Using ELKNet’s interactive push-to-talk system, students can ask questions and interact directly with the speakers.
Serving as prime contractor, system designer, and integrator through the federal government’s SATCOM II contract, Hughes is providing a one-way television (ITV) and two-way audio communications network for interactive training to GETN students, including ELKNet. The one-stop distance learning solution, which includes Convergent Media Systems and Intelsat as part of the Hughes team, incorporates equipment, broadband services, space segment, customer support, course scheduling, and systems integration.
According to the ELKNet project manager, the Hughes distance learning solution significantly increases employee development opportunities across Indian Country.
In total, Hughes is managing the delivery of government education to over 2,200 GETN classrooms throughout the U.S. and the Pacific Rim, including virtual classrooms for Air Force schools in Korea, Japan, and Guam. Other federal agencies that are using GETN include the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Deployment at more than 200 ELKNet sites, including schools, juvenile correction centers, and administrative offices, began in December 2008, with expected completion by the end of 2010. Ongoing work will include additions, modifications, and support activity.
“As one of the largest suppliers of distance education to the federal government, Hughes is pleased to provide services and equipment to GETN’s 14 member agencies,” said Mike Tippets, vice president, Hughes Solutions Group. “ELKNet is a prime example of how our advanced capabilities in systems integration and satellite technology are helping fulfill GETN’s mission of providing high quality distance education in far-flung areas.”
Indeed, through the power of satellite broadband technology, GETN’s digital campus is able to provide the same level of training and education to urban and rural areas alike—even deep in the Grand Canyon in the land of the blue-green waters.