11 Oct Online on the Road: How Wi-Fi-Equipped School Buses Are Keeping Students Connected
School buses outfitted with Wi-Fi networks provide convenient internet access for students from rural areas and low-income families.
The scariest part of launching a one-to-one technology program is that everything can go wrong even when administrators spend time studying other districts. The beauty of one-to-one programs is that they aren’t one-size-fits-all, which is why creative district leaders are continually discovering innovative ways to bring technology to their students.
In Arkansas’s Mountain Home Public School District, administrators are investing in five Wi-Fi-enabled buses to provide wireless connectivity during school trips. Mobile internet gives students the flexibility to complete work or research on the go, so they don’t lose out on valuable class time while traveling long distances for academic, athletic and club events. Students are welcome to log on with personal devices, but the district is also equipping high school students with Chromebooks. The buses are just one step of a multistage plan to integrate technology wherever students need extra access.
Bringing Wi-Fi Zones to Areas Without Internet
Mountain Home is one of many districts adopting the Wi-Fi-on-wheels trend, and for other districts, mobile networks are essential to providing a uniform educational experience. Surrounded by mobile devices and businesses with public Wi-Fi, urban and upper-income Americans tend to forget that much of the rural United States lies outside of internet provider networks. Rural school districts have additional challenges when designing one-to-one programs because large portions of their student population often live in homes that can’t afford or access internet.
In 2015, Coachella Valley Unified School District in California proved that obstacles inspire great ideas. The district led the trend to add Wi-Fi on buses after realizing that only 60 percent of local students had reliable internet at home. Superintendent Darryl Adams wanted to ensure that all students received an equal opportunity to benefit from technology initiatives, and any program the district invested in had to fit the unique needs of a rural, low-income community. According to Adams, some of the district’s most disadvantaged families live in distant, makeshift homes without electricity, making connectivity seem like an impossible goal.
Yet, Coachella is taking mobile learning to the next level by deploying a fleet of Wi-Fi-enabled buses, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. In the past, many parents had to travel long distances to bring students to local libraries for research, often for assignments with a one-day deadline. Connected buses allow students to make good use of travel time they would otherwise spend socializing, napping or staring off into space. For parents, the program offers peace of mind that their children can take advantage of academic resources and succeed in school.
Extending the School Day With Bus Hotspots
Coachella administrators aren’t satisfied with only delivering internet access during the ride home. The district routinely parks Wi-Fi buses in low-access areas to provide hotspots for students with no home internent. After a few missteps with battery drainage, the district realized solar panels offered the best option for powering each bus’s wireless routers. Administrators are dedicated to leveling the playing field for all students, giving them the tools to compete in a tech-oriented world.
Following in the footsteps of Coachella, many rural districts are researching ways to bolster their one-to-one programs with wireless-enabled buses. Consider the example of Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina, where buses serve as pop-up classrooms for disciplines such as STEM. While the startup cost for wireless-enabled buses can be steep, this system represents an evolution of the mobile lab and offers an alternative success model for districts where a traditional one-to-one program simply won’t work.
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