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Recognizing Innovation in Student Transportation During COVID-19

In all parts of the country, school buses are revving into action once again. There is a cautious optimism for the start of a new school year with less disruption and more normalcy. This holds true for buses as well as classrooms.

During the height of the pandemic when schools were closed, districts from all regions leveraged student transportation technology to creatively serve their school families and communities.

Two such districts were highlighted at Tyler Technologies’ annual Connect user conference in April 2021. The Tyler Excellence Awards for innovative use of transportation technologies were awarded to two districts that enhanced their service during a crisis. Read on to learn how they did it.

Township High School District #214
Arlington Heights, Illinois

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, District 214 offered its students a rich array of opportunities to access local college classes, internships, industrial certification programs, and community service opportunities.

“We needed a way to allow nearly 12,000 students to get to and from their homes and to over 25 program locations for any class period, and we needed it quickly.”

 

– Nicole Hansen, Transportation Supervisor, Township High School District #214 (Ill.)

With these customized, experiential offerings outside school buildings, transportation officials had an existing need for an easy way to accommodate an enormous number of possible student transportation schedules.

When schools closed due to the pandemic, the district saw an opportunity to harness the unexpected disruption to implement a new student transportation model to better serve the district during and after closures.

“We needed a way to allow nearly 12,000 students to get to and from their homes and to over 25 program locations for any class period, and we needed it quickly,” said Transportation Supervisor Nicole Hansen.

The district did away with its old routes and used modern school transportation software to build a routing scheme inspired by public transit. This resulted in 65 shuttles that now run across the community and serve students traveling home, to internships, or to other educational or service locales.

Throughout the pandemic, students used the new transportation options to spend their downtime socially distancing at home instead of having to spend that time in a district building. This maximized in-person school occupancy while maintaining social distancing.

Read more on how Hansen was able to free staff and students from rigid transportation schedules to support unique learning experiences.



Detroit Public Schools
Detroit, Michigan

Approximately 85% of the 50,000 students served by Detroit Public Schools district are classified as low-income; therefore, every student is eligible for a free breakfast and lunch on school days. When schools shut down in March of 2020, the district had to quickly figure out a way to feed students with the highest need.

“We were able to filter on the identified students with the use of our internal information fields, copy the students to a new student file, and set them all up for door-to-door delivery each day.”

 

– Aaron Walter, Executive Director of Transportation, Detroit Public Schools (Mich.)

Using the district’s existing transportation software, Executive Director of Transportation Aaron Walter worked with the Special Education department and the Office of School Nutrition to identify the students with the highest need within three days of the school closing.

“We were able to filter on the identified students with the use of our internal information fields, copy the students to a new student file, and set them all up for door-to-door delivery each day,” Walter explained. The team designed approximately 70 routes to deliver daily meals to designated neighborhood locations.

In order to avoid overwhelming any individual school’s kitchen, each meal delivery route was designed to deliver a specific number of student meals to each pickup location. Once the new routes were in place, Walter’s team was also able to provide additional resources, such as homework deliveries. He used the transportation software to export reports and labels that made academic packet assembly and delivery efficient.

Watch now to see how Walter and his staff creatively used routing software to coordinate and deliver meals and schoolwork to those most in need.

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