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Aug 15, 2014, 17:09 PM

Taking the Classroom on the Road with Wi-Fi Enabled Buses

In this day and age where technology allows us to be connected every minute of every day, we look to use innovations to better the lives of our customer and their students. One of the ways First Student is driving new advancements is to connect our students back to the classroom while still on the school bus – thus allowing for a “rolling classroom” by providing districts with the possibility for Wi-Fi enabled buses. This technological connection allows students to continue their school work on the bus; providing them with more school and research resources, additional educational time and in the end, more time for family.

Currently, First Student has Wi-Fi technology on buses in four districts, but we believe this tool is invaluable and encourage more districts to roll out the program. We believe Wi-Fi enabled buses keep the focus where it should be: on furthering a student’s education and promoting hope for the future. This technology lets districts broaden their reach by granting them the possibility of opening up online classes or developing online tools that make it easier to reach students by modern methodologies. First Student can customize a system that gives districts control over site and network access, while giving students the ability to access specialized school networks and classes.

Wi-Fi Expands Student Opportunities for a Better Future

St. James Parish Schools (SJPS) in Louisiana is one of the nation’s most technologically advanced school districts. They are a ‘one-to-one’ district, which means every student from 3rd grade to 12th grade has a laptop and students in and above 7th grade are allowed to take home the laptops. But the district doesn’t stop there; they push for unique learning opportunities – allowing kids opportunities away from the normal school building and on their own time. Their ‘one-to-one’ initiative seamlessly links the laptops with the Wi-Fi provided on First Student buses.

For years, SJPS Superintendent Dr. Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce pushed for Wi-Fi on buses and became the first district in the nation to install Wi-Fi on a First Student fleet. He says Wi-Fi helps teachers and officials offer additional opportunities to the district’s students:

“The main reason we wanted to provide Wi-Fi on several of our buses – we have a science and math academy and a career and technology center that the students can attend half a day while they’re in high school. We also bus students to a technical college, a community college and a university. Some of those trips are as long as a half an hour to 40 minutes away from their high schools. So what we’re attempting to do is to maximize the instructional time since they all have laptops. When they’re on the bus and travelling a half an hour to the university or the technical college, they are able to continue their work assignments and get work done.”

These SJPS partnerships give their students opportunities for educational fulfillment and career advancement; students can take dual enrollment courses and university level classes to get an edge up. But because some students take these classes, they don’t take a full course load at the high school – district officials knew the school day had to be adapted in some fashion and adding Wi-Fi to First Student buses was key to fully implementing the district’s vision.

“Because we don’t have enough time for them to schedule a full-load because they’re on the bus, we schedule an internet based course that they can take. So it’s really plugged in to our mission of making sure kids have every opportunity and providing them the time while they’re on the bus, to get most of their work done, so they’re not working until midnight every night on their assignments.”

Many students are offered opportunities that they may not be able to participate in normally, because of the district opportunities paired with the Wi-Fi capabilities. Administrators say before Wi-Fi, some parents struggled with the choice to send their children to off-site classes because of the time spent on the bus in the middle of the day that could be wasted. But Wi-Fi makes the parents’ choice easier, with them knowing their children can spend that time on the bus continuing their education or completing homework assignments.

Wi-Fi Beyond the School District

First Student’s parent company, FirstGroup America, is a pioneer when it comes to Wi-Fi enabled buses. First Student’s sister company, Greyhound, understands the power of Wi-Fi offerings on buses. Greyhound offers charging stations as well as free internet so travelers can continue business or pass the time by watching movies, visiting news and social media sites, and listening to music. This knowledge is passed on to First Student locations, so that we can serve not only the students during the school day, but on single-day or overnight field trips or even charter trips. Dr. Luce says the students and teachers push for the Wi-Fi enabled buses to be used for athletic trips or state conferences.  School buses are one of the safest modes of travel in North America and we at First Student believe the Wi-Fi offering is the next innovative step for school districts.