Two transportation directors shared during a recent webinar how utilizing school bus Wi-Fi hotspots to keep students seated and engaged while on the bus creates a safer experience for both drivers and students.
Driver retention is an ongoing problem that COVID-19 has only exacerbated, noted Matthew Riegel, director of solutions engineering for technology provider Kajeet, during the May 4 webinar with School Transportation News. Improvement of student behavior, he said, is an unexpected benefit of putting Wi-Fi connectivity on a school bus, therefore giving drivers a chance to improve safety, keep their eyes on the road and better fulfill their transportation job duties.
Raytown C-2 School District in Missouri had 500 bus discipline referrals annually. After implementing the Kajeet Wi-Fi solution, disciplinary referrals decreased by 45 percent, saving over 100 hours of administrative time.
“Students being occupied helps them make better choices and provide a safer environment for everybody,” shared Transportation Director Kevin Easley, adding that drivers didn’t want to go back to non-Wi-Fi buses.
The systems are easy to maintain once added to buses, and district staff likes having the option so students are able to make use of ride time. Students and parents responded favorably to the Wi-Fi-equipped buses as well, Easley explained.
Riegel noted that robust and customizable filtering allows students to only work on school-related sites and not access streaming services or social media. VPNs are also blocked so students cannot get around the filters. The filters are premade to make it easier for districts to complete the setup, and during what Riegel termed a two- to three-week learning curve, more sites can be whitelisted for teachers as needed.
Meanwhile, Aurora Public Schools in Colorado started Wi-Fi pilots that students responded to well and now has worked the technology into its bus replacement cycle. Transportation Director Janet Ulrich shared that the district has tapped into the Emergency Connectivity Fund to fund the equipment.
She reported that disciplinary referrals fell 75 percent from the 2017-2018 school year to the 2018-2019 school year after onboarding the school bus Wi-Fi. It also helps driver morale since they know students are occupied. “It just makes for a smoother, quieter ride to school,” she said.
Onboard Wi-Fi also allows teachers to carry education onto the bus, Riegel added. Tracking student usage can also yield valuable data that can help district staff fine-tune their offerings.
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Kajeet offers a Wi-Fi system that can be hard-wired into the bus, which provides a better connection, and a portable kit that can be moved between buses or into school buildings if needed. Portable kits can be brought outside the bus for use cases like offsite field or athletic trips, and they can even be used as part of an emergency preparedness plan, explained Riegel.
He related the story of a district that uses Wi-Fi to upgrade its bookmobile with a large TV, as well as another that outfitted a bus to teach students to code.
In answer to an attendee’s concern on coverage, Riegel said as long as there is coverage from major cellphone carriers in the area, the Wi-Fi will work. Kajeet also works with districts to determine the best connection option.
For districts that already have GPS for routing and tracking on their buses, Kajeet can track the actual route versus the planned route and provide a comparison to improve operations.
Riegel also reviewed funding sources such as the third and likely last round of the Emergency Connectivity Fund which opened on April 28 and closes on May 13.