As many districts transition to distance learning for the remainder of the 2019–2020 school year, digital equity for students has become more imperative than ever. For students without Internet at home, accessing and completing online assignments can be very challenging.
One solution gaining momentum across the country? School bus Wi–Fi.
School bus Wi–Fi is typically used to provide Internet access to students traveling on their daily routes or to and from school events, such as football games and field trips. It also provides additional benefits that enhance student safety, such as Student Ridership, GPS, and camera offload.
With the recent surge in school closures due to COVID-19, these buses are no longer transporting students. But the Internet access they provide is not going to waste. Districts have started re-purposing their Wi–Fi equipped buses to create Internet hotspots for students and families in their communities.
If your district is thinking about using school buses as Internet hotspots, here are some things to consider:
WHERE TO DEPLOY BUSES
Districts that already have established locations for students and families to pick up meals, student devices, and distance learning materials, can simply use these same locations to provide WiFi access. Another solution is to park the buses in neighborhoods, apartment complexes, or mobile home parks where there is a high concentration of students without Internet at home.
KEEPING STUDENTS & STAFF SAFE
While the Kajeet SmartBus™ WiFi router can connect up to 65 devices at a time, 65 students cannot be crowded on or around a bus due to social distancing guidelines. One solution is to set up marked areas around the bus to ensure students and staff are staying at least six feet apart. If the bus is parked in a neighborhood, apartment complex, or mobile home park, students may even be able to connect from inside their homes. Depending on the location of the student in relation to the bus, the WiFi signal can reach up to 300 feet.
Park buses in well-lit areas and establish guidelines for hours of operations to ensure safety of students, parents, and staff. And don’t forget to follow the latest CDC guidelines when it comes to protecting yourself and others from the spread of the virus (i.e. face masks, hand washing, etc.).
Communicating with students & parents
Once you have established the locations and times that students can access the school bus Wi–Fi, ensure that you have several methods of communicating that information with parents. We suggest using your district or school website, SMS, email, and social media. Some districts are also hanging banners on the side of the buses once they are parked which clearly state the schedules for when the buses will be at each location. Austin Independent School District even had their story picked up by local and national news outlets.
Picking the best network in your area
In order to provide students with a strong Internet connection, ensure that you test network strength in the areas which you will be deploying the buses. The easiest and most convenient way to check signal strength is by using a cell phone. Simply look at the signal bars on your phone to see how coverage is in any given area. Keep in mind that a SmartBus WiFi router will have a stronger signal strength reception than a standard cell phone will because it has a better antenna. With Kajeet, you can pick from any of the five major U.S. wireless networks. There are even options available to pick two networks if signal strength varies throughout your community.
When providing Internet to students, it is important to maintain compliance with CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) guidelines. The Kajeet SmartBus WiFi solution is CIPA-compliant, automatically filtering out adult content, non-educational games, and streaming sites (Netflix, Spotify, etc.). Not only do filters keep students safe and on task, they will ensure that you get the most out of your LTE data by blocking sites that require high data usage.
WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
Kajeet is here to help. We have successfully partnered with over 1,500 districts to connect their students to Internet outside the classroom. If you have any questions about how to implement your own school bus Wi–Fi program, we’ve got you covered with technical support, resources for parents and students, and everything in between.
To learn more about rolling out Kajeet SmartBus Wi-Fi on your fleet, contact us here.