Being from a generation that proceeded the internet as we currently know it, I found the idea of Wi-Fi on a school bus a little over the top. I asked myself “why should we provide internet access to students so they can watch YouTube or play Minecraft on the way to school”? What could possibly be so important that it couldn’t wait until they reached their destination? What I had failed to realize is that in today’s world the virtual environment has permeated so deep into our daily lives that to not have access is to be at a great disadvantage.
By now we are all very familiar with the idea of school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic and if you have school age kids you’ve most likely noticed that they are at home a lot…. and I mean a lot. Now, my family and I have been very blessed with a steady internet connection the entire time but that has not been the case for others. We live in an area where almost 50% of middle school students receive free or discounted lunches. What that translates into is that not all families have the ability to provide additional services for their families.
The schools have gone above and beyond in their attempts to provide for their students by allowing access to school Wi-Fi in their parking lots. However, we’ve seen many students still have issues with transportation throughout the day because their parents work, and this is where the idea of bus Wi-Fi really has an impact. According to Edward Dubose, the transportation director of Choctaw County (AL) they have outfitted 32 buses with Wi-Fi capabilities. These buses have been strategically placed throughout the county in order to facilitate students need for internet access.
Each bus is outfitted with Wi-Fi equipment that allows students to be within 200’ of the bus and up to 50 users and still have the ability to get online. Content filters have been installed to ensure that only appropriate material is accessed by the student. Each bus Wi-Fi system includes a data plan that allows it to access the cellular network. High usage alerts have been created that notifies the school when a bus data plan nears its limit. Very often the school will then replace that bus with a different one that has not been utilized as much in order to keep data costs low.
This “outside of the box” style thinking has enabled school systems around the country to continue to provide for their students. With school closures at an all time high, technology has stepped up to fill in the gap and provide that much needed support for our children. As we continue to push our technology forward, I now realize that internet access for all students is not “a nice thing to have” but is a critical need if we want them to succeed.