North Kansas City schools to equip a few buses for Wi-Fi access

school-bus-CU--generic----2117873By MARY SANCHEZ

Stepping aboard a school bus will soon be the same as taking a seat in class for some students in the North Kansas City schools. In January, the district will begin wiring four school buses that are used for longer trips with Wi-Fi access. It’s believed to be the first such effort locally.

The innovative move is just one more example of how local districts are adapting to keep up with technology and use it for the benefit of students. “We are living in a digital age,” said Eric Sipes, information technology executive director for the district. “We are at that point where we have to embrace it.”

The idea to wire the buses with industrial grade wireless 3-G Internet systems was initially proposed several years ago by Lon Waterman, assistant director of transportation.

Waterman wanted to recoup instructional time lost to travel. So he started with the bus. He envisioned it as a moving Wi-Fi hotspot. Each bus should be able to handle up to 32 people logged on at once. The first use will be by students who make the 50-minute round trip daily to a career center in Platte County.

The district will also begin deciding what students can work on as they travel, instead of waiting until they arrive at the career center. One example is a safety test that could be completed online on the bus.

These are not regular school buses, but rather ones that have been fitted for longer highway trips, like those taken by band members and sports teams. They are the buses with storage compartments, such as those used for band or sports equipment.

In addition, Waterman plans to provide access to the district’s Internet service (Verizon) to make sure traveling students can call up things like E-Campus Learning or preparation for ACT, SAT or Advanced Placement tests. Or they simply could use the time to do research for assignments.

The cost is about $700 per bus for the equipment and $50 in monthly Internet access charges. Pushing forward with the idea for the buses came about after North Kansas City Superintendent Todd White issued a challenge to Sipes and his staff more than a year ago.

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