A school bus can serve more purposes than solely transporting students to and from school, as a local community discovered during the global pandemic.
The Sullivan Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in partnership with a transportation contractor renovated a school bus to serve as a mobile classroom for students who don’t have reliable internet in their homes.
District Superintendent Dr. Robert Dufour told School Transportation News that anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of students in Sullivan County, New York, don’t have reliable access to high-speed, affordable internet connections.
“And when you’re working in a remote environment, it’s crucial,” Dufour said. “Otherwise, you’re sending paper packets home, like we did 50 years ago, and kids aren’t learning.”
New York BOCES were established by state law in 1948 to provide cooperative educational services, and shared services that districts cannot afford to provide on their own. BOCES exists outside of major cities, mostly in rural and suburban areas of New York state. Sullivan BOCES provides logistics and support services to eight school districts within its region, which is located in one of the more rural areas in the Hudson Valley.
He said Phil and Anthony Vallone of Rolling V Bus Corporation, a family-owned and operated transportation contractor in Sullivan County, approached him in October with a proposal to create a mobile classroom with one of its school buses.
The idea then took off from there.
Dufour said the BOCES and Rolling V worked with a number of community partners to retrofit the bus, including Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Sullivan 180, a non-profit community organization that focuses on health-related projects. Over the next couple of months, the seats on the bus were removed and students from the career and technology school installed new flooring. In addition, students welded frames for the workstations as well as the tabletops.
“The entire bus was done over from top to bottom with COVID-19 protocols being taken into consideration,” Dufour explained, adding that Gunther’s office donated $7,000 to purchase a generator, as well as help purchase of 10 laptops that are kept on board.
Rolling V transportation absorbs the rest of the costs to maintain and operate the bus.
Dufour said the bus is designed to be taken by school districts to the most remote parts of the county and parked at a location so that students who are on a remote learning day for example can be dropped off and access its internet. To provide a Wi-Fi connection, the bus can be either be hardwired through a window to the school building’s internal computer network, or the onboard Wi-Fi hotspot can be used.
Dufour further explained that a school district coordinates with the Sullivan BOCES communications office to reserve the bus and ensure Rolling V delivers the bus to the desired location.
School districts then decide if they want to provide remote classroom instruction for the day or if the bus will be parked at an apartment complex, for example, to provide students with Wi-Fi or a quiet spot to study. To reduce the number of students on board at any given time, parents must sign their children up to use a workstation. Then, Rolling V staff returns to the site at the end of the day to pick up the bus.
“Any school district or community organization who wishes to use the bus has to staff the bus,” Dufour said, adding that the bus rolled out for the first time in February. “If it’s a school district, they can assign a teacher, teacher assistant or a teacher’s aide to supervise the students on the bus. If it’s a community-based organization, they have to provide a member of their staff to supervise the bus while it’s in use.”
The students in the bus windows, above, are actually photos of students from the Career Technical Education Center. When the bus first rolled out, students complained that the sunlight coming in through the windows was creating a glare on their laptops. The students came up with the idea of using their printed faces as window shades. The mages permit enoough light to illuminate the bus but without the glare.
The bus has the capacity for 12 workstations, but due to social distancing, currently, only half are installed. Dufour said the windows are kept down, when possible, and the staff monitoring the bus are in charge of wiping down all high-touch areas. Students are also seated facing the same direction and mask-wearing is mandated.
Post-pandemic, Dufour said the bus will be used as a workstation for community-based organizations. He said he is currently working with the Sullivan County office to use the bus over the summer as a mobile Resource Family Approval office. The county is also looking to bring the bus into senior housing complexes to help residents register for their COVID-19 vaccines, he added.
“So, it’s going to have a life beyond the pandemic, but it was born out of the pandemic,” Dufour concluded.