Even as state legislators across the nation continue to express interest in school bus advertising, and student transporters continue to be aprehensive about potential safety issues, the Vail Unified School District in southern Arizona is utilizing revenue from external ads to drive its innovative “Internet school bus” program.
John Nunes, the district’s transportation supervisor, said by the end of the year 30 buses will be Wi-Fi capable, paid for via ad contracts signed with local businesses. Companies can purchase age- and content-appropriate ads on an annual basis for $1,000 or two years for $1,500 per state law and school district approval and can specify on which routes the 1-foot-high by 4-feet-wide external billboards are seen by the public.
The revenue goes towards creating the signs that use non-fading paint and metal, which Nunes said are necessary because of the heat in the greater Tucson area, as well as equipping the district’s buses with the necessary equipment and paying for monthly service charges through Verizon to broadcast hotspots for an area that includes the inside of the bus as well as the immediate area around it. Instead of hardwiring a bus with Internet access, Nunes explained that the district moves a dozen mobile routers from bus to bus, as needed.
Students are also blocked from inappropriate websites or web content.
Three years ago, Nunes said Vail Unified became the first district in the nation to embrace digital text books for its high school students and Wi-Fi on the bus. As was reported last fall in School Transportation News, incoming freshmen receive a free laptop that stays with them throughout their high school career. Wi-Fi access on school buses allows these students to do homework on routes or sports trips, some of which can be on the roads for two hours one-way.
“We get some of our sports teams that complain to us if they don’t have the Wi-FI,” said Nunes. “The ability for all our student athletes to get their homework done has been extremely well received. The parents love it. The reality is, when kids are engaged in something productive, we all benefit from it.”
He added that team coaches, most of whom are teachers as well, also appreciate the ability to get their own work done during long trips. Nunes, himself, is a golf coach for one of the local high schools.
“Teachers will specifically request Internet busing,” he added. “Vail is pretty digitally active. Some staff members have gone on field trips, and teachers take laptops with them. It’s nice to have all the kids get their homework done.”
Vail Unified has 102 total buses in its fleet and transports 6,000 students a day. Nunes added that the district can average six sports trips a week that can travel up to two hours one way. Vail also operates about 70 field trips per month for kindergarten through high school students.
Nunes said the goal is to have all 102 buses Wi-Fi ready and 25 mobile routers available.