Vail bus gets Internet access for long trips
Dec 24, 2009 (The Arizona Daily Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Students in the Vail School District no longer have to pass the time on the school bus with spitballs. Instead, they can surf the Internet.
The district has equipped one of its buses with a wireless router to encourage students to do homework during rides home that can take up to an hour and road trips for athletes who travel to small towns throughout Arizona.
"This makes it possible for the bus ride to be a productive time instead of wasted time," said Vail School District Superintendent Calvin Baker. "We know some students will use this connection to help entertain themselves -- that's just being realistic -- but even then it is something for them to do, making the buses safer.
"Anyone who has driven across town with a couple of kids knows how important it is that they have something to do. A bus is the same, except magnified."
The Vail School District has had wireless Internet access in every classroom since 2001, and school buses were the next logical step, said Chief Information Officer Matt Federoff. The district is seeking grant money to equip more than a dozen buses in its fleet by the end of the school year.
He came across the product, which was being marketed for personal vehicles, in a consumer electronics catalog.
"I saw it and thought, why not put it in a bus?" he said. "It would be really cool and you would have a captive audience."
Federoff contacted the company, Autonet Mobile, and proposed putting the wireless router in a school bus -- an idea that had not been brought to the company before, he said.
By the end of November, a demo router was installed in one bus and is now in use.
Ted Gast's varsity boys soccer team from Empire High School took advantage of the Internet bus for a trip to a soccer tournament in Globe on Dec. 11.
The seven-hour round trip was a lot quieter than normal, Gast said.
"I saw students working on homework and studying, and they all said they really loved it," Gast said. "It really brought the noise level down."
Some of the students were prepping for the ACT, which was scheduled for the following day, Gast said. Others were studying for upcoming finals.
The team had to miss class for the tournament, but was able to stay in the loop by getting online to view classroom blogs, references and textbooks, he said.
The wireless signal was strong throughout the trip with the exception of a few mountain passes, but upon getting out of those areas, the signal returned immediately.
"I hope to see more buses like that in the future because it allows students to access school resources and study materials online when away from school on long trips," Gast said.
The Vail School District has identified 19 buses that serve the longest routes for both Empire and Cienega high schools, Federoff said.
The district is applying for a grant to purchase the equipment.
Each wireless router runs $200, and the monthly service fee is $60, Federoff said. For all 19 buses the cost is approximately $15,000, including one year of service.
Federoff said the units incorporate GPS, allowing the transportation department to keep track of the school bus.
The wireless network is the same as the one on Vail school campuses, meaning they have the same security filters, Baker said.
He hopes that will prevent students from viewing any inappropriate material.
"Students today have to make their own decisions about what they are going to be looking at on the Internet," Baker said. "They are aware that they are expected to behave on the buses the way they would in the classroom."
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 573-4175 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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