What Districts Need to Know About School Bus Connectivity

School Bus WiFi

Mobile WiFi Transitions From Luxury to Necessity for School Districts

Having reliable, consistent network connectivity is considered essential for any school district. What districts may not consider, however, is the importance of having that connectivity extend to all the locations students may visit on an average day.

Whether students are traveling via school bus for a sports competition or are lacking Internet access once they return home, school buses can keep students and their families connected to the educational tools that matter most.

For many school districts, equipping school buses with WiFi is shifting from luxury to necessity. As students, teachers, and families increasingly rely on the Internet and cloud-based tools as part of the educational experience, bus connectivity can become an essential part of a district’s network infrastructure in several key ways:

Connectivity For Off-Campus Travel

Students spend considerable time on school buses for a wide range of school-related activities, including such as athletic events, field trips, college visits, and academic competitions — in addition to the traditional experience of taking the bus to and from school every day.

Having WiFi available on the bus complements students’ experiences during these excursions. Students are able to watch educational videos about a field trip location as they are en route, or they can do research for homework assignments while traveling to a sports game.

Coquille School District in Coquille, Oregon, for example, began equipping buses with Internet connectivity at the request of a teacher who had a student miss an important deadline because of an inability to connect while traveling. Students now are able to access study resources, take practice exams, do research, watch curriculum-related videos, participate in online classes, and even apply to college while on the road.

Reducing Behavioral Issues on School Buses

One unexpected benefit of school bus connectivity is a reduction in behavioral problems when students are traveling from place to place. In Vail, Arizona, student disciplinary concerns “virtually disappeared” once Internet access was provided. And in Huntsville, Alabama, Huntsville City Schools noticed “a 70% decrease in discipline reports on buses that have WiFi.”

Reducing disciplinary issues on buses can free up teachers, administrators and coaches to spend more time proactively focusing on academic and trip-related goals instead of reactively dealing with student conflict.

Delivering Connectivity to Students & Families in Need

In 2013, 5 million U.S. households with school-aged children did not have access to the Internet at home. The lowest-income households also have the lowest numbers of broadband subscription rates; 31.4% of households that earn less than $50,000 annually (with children between 6 and 17) do not have a high-speed home Internet connection.

For these students and families, the lack of Internet access is more than just an inconvenience. As schools increasingly require cloud-based resources and the use of the Internet for homework assignments, inability to connect at home can put students at a serious disadvantage. Students cannot do homework-related research; turn in assignments; or use use academic tools such as online tutorials. Also, parents can’t connect to tools that allow them to communicate with teachers and track their students’ academic progress.

As the second poorest school district in the nation, the Coachella Valley Unified School District faced significant connectivity challenges once its 20,000 students returned home each night. Its “WiFi on Wheels” program transformed its 100 school buses into solar-powered, Internet-broadcasting vehicles that, when parked strategically each night, cover the district’s 1,250 square miles. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators all remain connected even after the school doors lock for the evening, allowing the educational experience and learning to extend far past school walls.

Enabling connected buses does come with some challenges, however. Districts need to ensure that security and reliability are not compromised as connectivity is expanded. Additionally, while districts may provide connectivity to students in their homes via buses, some families may still not have access to devices (such as tablets and computers) that can connect.

With the right systems, however, districts can ensure that students, families, teachers, and administrators can use bus connectivity as a critical component of their work.

More About School Bus Connectivity at ISTE 2016

For more information on cost-effective, reliable connectivity for schools buses, catch Cradlepoint at the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference June 26-29 in Denver. If you're visiting ISTE 2016, also register for Cocktails + Connectivity, our ISTE reception on Tuesday, June 28. Register below!