Cardinal Community School District officials say the goal is to transform school buses into locations for learning, by adding wireless Internet and bringing focus to educational apps.
It may seem the only time students aren't on the Internet is the ride to and from school. At Cardinal School District, that gap is now filled.
"The school bus becomes a location to learn. Having wireless can be a creative way to have [some of the same tools] they do at school," said Joel Pedersen, superintendent of the Cardinal Community School District. "So [even] beyond the school house, the learning never stops."
Not every district, or even every bus, would benefit from having mobile Wi-Fi. But around the nation, states with rural districts have tried Internet hookups on the school bus. Students aren't supposed to be on a bus for an hour, but some routes come pretty close to the maximum.
"Between morning and afternoon, you can have up to two hours to learn," Pedersen said. "Also, for sports teams that spend a lot of time on the road, they can get some of their work done."
Does Pedersen really think all students are going to use the connection to study math?
"The devices are set up to be [heavy on] educational apps, so we hope it's about learning, but even for casual use, if we can minimize disruptions on the bus for the driver [by children engaged in] the casual use of Androids, it might help resolve some of the challenges bus drivers face. To me, that's one of the toughest jobs there is," Pedersen said.
In districts that have tried Wi-Fi on the bus, disruptions have come down dramatically as kids on hour-long commutes stay engaged.
"Filtering is the same as at school, which means it conforms to all the guidelines. We're going to learn a lot as we implement this."
There's another benefit for a rural Iowa community, he said.
"There are kids who don't have Wi-Fi access at home," Pedersen explained. "We still, as a rural community, [suffer] spotty high-speed Internet. We'll have 4G service on the bus."
The superintendent said Eldon will be among the first places in Iowa, or perhaps the very first, to have the state-of-the-art system on board the big yellow buses.
"You couldn't have this on a school bus before; it violated [Department of Education] regulations," Pedersen said. "This just became available in Iowa last month; I'd been asking about it for the past year."
Once the word is out — they'd kept the plan pretty quiet until they knew whether the rules would change — they're going to have more conversations with parents about technology. Some parents may like the plan, some may be uncomfortable. Like other changes, Pedersen said, the important thing for the district will be to keep the dialogue open.
The elected board of education liked the idea. Which is good, because there were no separate grants available to pay for the service. They're hoping this becomes a reimbursable expense, but in the meantime, he had to ask a school board to be progressive enough to pay for the service.
©2014 the Ottumwa Courier (Ottumwa, Iowa)