Original article can be found on eSchool News.

By Laura Ascione; March 15, 2018

More districts are turning to school bus WiFi as a viable solution to increase students' internet access.

Gaps in internet access are an all-too-familiar struggle for many schools, particularly those in rural or low-income districts where coverage is spotty or too expensive.

In 2015, President Barack Obama said internet access was no longer a privilege, but a basic necessity. School districts are adopting that frame of mind and are trying their best to keep students connected as long as possible.

Equipping school buses with WiFi helps extend learning, especially for students who have long bus rides due to rural locations or extra-curricular activities.

Kajeet’s SmartBus solution is deployed in 135 school bus fleets in 36 states, and at CoSN’s 2018 conference in Washington, D.C., Kajeet Vice President Michael Flood shared new data and a few districts’ experiences with outfitting buses with SmartBus technology.

Here are a few facts and district experiences with school bus WiFi:

  1. Ninety-three percent of districts in a Kajeet survey lack school bus WiFi, but 37 percent of those districts said they plan to add it in the next 1-2 years.
  2. A student with a 40-minute one-way bus ride racks up the equivalent of more than 20 instructional days each school year. Equipping a bus with WiFi gives those 20 days back to the student and increases learning opportunities, Flood says.
  3. WiFi-equipped buses can help create “homework zones” to give additional access to students lacking home internet connections. For instance, Georgia’s Liberty County School System parks 24 of its Kajeet SmartBus buses around the county in areas such as apartment complexes and police and fire departments during after-school hours and into the late evening. Those zones help students access the internet and educational content.
  4. It’s possible to have contractor fleets equipped with WiFi, too, Flood says.” About 25 percent of buses are contracted. We offer SmartBus in a hardmounted version as well as a portable kit in a ruggedized case. Some districts use that portable kit because they have a contractor fleet and the fleet won’t allow them to drill holes in the buses or permanently affix the equipment. Other districts are including WiFi capability in their RFPs for school bus fleets, and the contracting companies are contacting us directly to help,” he adds.
  5. Kajeet data indicates a decrease in bus behavior incidents and increased driver retention. In Missouri’s Raytown School District, which tracked SmartBus usage and performance from January-May in 2017, referrals decreased 48 percent and students logged 4,200 hours of homework time.
  6. Administrators told Kajeet they want filtering capabilities (87 percent), reporting tools (81 percent), solid coverage (80 percent), data availability (74 percent), and a reliable connection speed and shared data (69 percent) when it comes to school bus wi-fi. The conversation around school bus wi-fi should portray the project as a district initiative and not just a transportation initiative, based on how it will help instruction, technology, logistics, and discipline, says Flood.
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