The pilot project is intended to keep students busy on the bus

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - The school district has added Wi-Fi to one school bus, and if the initiative has positive results, more district buses could have Wi-Fi in the future.

What would make it cool for kids to ride school buses?

Maybe adding Wi-Fi!

Crook County School Board members liked the idea as a way to not only ease the before and after school traffic congestion but to allow students to do their homework on long bus rides.

So, they asked Michael Allen, the district's director of technology, to look into adding Wi-Fi to school buses.

Last week, the new propane bus on the Powell Butte route went live.

"Right now, this is a pilot, and for the most part, a proof of concept to see how viable it is to do it and also how the students would use it," Allen said.

They chose the Powell Butte route because it has a mix of students and is one of the longer routes. Additionally, the Powell Butte area tends to have good cellular coverage, Allen pointed out.

After much research, Allen secured demo test equipment from Cisco that they are using to test out the Wi-Fi on the buses.

"We don't have a cost as we haven't selected an equipment vendor," Allen said. "All we have to pay is a $20 charge per month for the cellular data connection with Verizon."

Verizon is the district cell phone carrier.

All devices will have filtered internet access, so if students use school-supplied Chromebooks or their personal cell phones or other devices, they will have to go through the district's filtering system. Whatever they can access while at school, they can access on the bus.

Transportation Supervisor Michelle Saavedra has not had any experience with Wi-Fi on buses.

"The drivers have mixed feelings about it, but that is normal with something new that they don't know very much about yet," she said.

During his research, Allen asked two Washington school district personnel to share their experiences with Wi-Fi on school buses. One commented that the students were using a lot of data and suspected they watched a lot of videos.

Those district bus drivers enjoyed the fact that the students are busy doing something on the buses and that it helped keep kids busy and not causing problems.

"None of them said it affected enrollment, encouraging people to ride buses, but it helped keep the kids distracted. They all said it was very popular," Allen reported.

He said the initiative could have various benefits locally.

Wi-Fi technology on buses not only provides students the chance to finish their homework and study on the ride home from school, but it leaves more time for extracurricular activities.

In addition, it may keep students engaged, contributing to a reduction in behavior incidents, allowing drivers to focus on driving safely, without hazardous distractions.

Wi-Fi-equipped buses also provide opportunities for athletes and school groups to learn while traveling to and from school events.

It could also increase access for students who may not have internet access at home. The district could potentially park the bus somewhere and turn on Wi-Fi access for underserved students.

CCSD Director of Business and Finance Anna Logan said the initial investment of adding Wi-Fi to one bus is very low.

"If we determine this is going to be a huge problem, then don't spend more money, but if it's awesome, then we'd start looking at quotes, and it's something we can gradually move into," she said.

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