For a few weeks this winter, Putnam County school bus No. 68 drove around in an invisible bubble of activity.
Wireless internet service was installed on the bus to give students with smart phones and other devices a chance to make better use of their travel time. It was an experiment worked out between the school system’s technology and transportation departments.
The goal is to see if someday students on Putnam County buses with longer routes might significantly benefit from vehicle-established Wi-Fi service to help them with homework and school projects.
Why No. 68?
“That’s the one she selected,” said Johnny Sloan, the head of Putnam County Schools technology department, in a nod to his collaborator, transportation supervisor Kim Bradford. “There’s a lot of students on there,” he added. “It’s got a long route.”
Bus No. 68 also serves three school levels Algood Elementary, Algood Middle and Cookeville High. It passes through the city and on into rural routes.
“It was a good representative choice,” Sloan said.
He said the pilot project started at the top with Director of Schools Jerry Boyd, who had been contacted by vendor Kajeet, a McLean, Va.-based company that specializes in student-oriented Wi-Fi projects.
Kajeet not only provides the Wi-Fi, but it provides filtering and screening services that keep students safe and away from inappropriate spots.
For experiments like the one involving Bus No. 68, Kajeet also provides data on how much time students spent using the service, what sites they used and other information that might help school officials decide if they want to expand the project.
Aside from educational advantages, there may also be behavioral benefits — the kind bus drivers might appreciate.
@:“It cuts down on student distractions on the bus,” Sloan said. “Students are very engaged with the device.”
He is unaware of any other school districts in Tennessee using the school bus Wi-Fi service, but it has been adopted by districts in surrounding states.
Recently, a school system in Decatur, Ala., had a similar pilot project and the Wi-Fi system has been adopted.
And in Georgia last fall, the Liberty County School System outfitted its entire school bus fleet with educational Wi-Fi to extend the school day for riders.
The Georgia district also planned to create a series of “homework zones” around the county by parking their Wi-Fi-enabled school buses in areas such as apartment complexes and fire and police departments. The idea is to make the buses internet hotspots that would allow low-income students to access school-district approved websites outside the classroom.
Costs for the systems can vary, and in some cases, grants can help pay for the Wi-Fi related systems, which are estimated at around $2,300 per school bus to install. Data use, which comes from providers like Verizon, would be extra.
The Wi-Fi student usage from bus No. 68 will be analyzed before school officials make any decisions, but Sloan offered his assessment soon after.
@:“It’s a nice platform,” he said. “We hope we can move forward with it.”
When we started Kajeet in 2003, we wanted kids to be agile with technology, to be empowered and safe, and we wanted to help them respond with confidence to what's happening in their world. Not incidentally, we want parents, educators and guardians to be involved too. Being part of the mobile world is not just fun, it’s a shared responsibility.