School districts around Ohio are turning to the ubiquitous school bus to augment distance learning in the face of the pandemic and a widening digital divide.
As the start of Ohio’s traditional school year inches ever closer and the picture about how and when our kids will return to school remains as fuzzy as ever, hard questions are being asked about how distance learning can be accomplished in rural or economically challenged areas where there is no access to broadband internet. Enter, the school bus.
Increasingly over the past ten years, school buses have been outfitted with Wi-Fi capabilities to enable students to start their school day (or maybe just finish their homework?) while they are still on the way to and from school. What once was viewed as a luxury afforded only to affluent school districts, now may be the solution to providing equal access to education as schools face the challenges of opening during the Covid 19 pandemic.
10 of Ohio’s largest cities are among the Top 30% of worst connected cities in the US. Source: National Digital Inclusion Alliance 2018 survey “Worst Connected Cities 2018”
“With the addition of some pretty straightforward hardware, school buses could be deployed strategically and economically to practically any location—rural, metropolitan or suburban—and act as a literal mobile hotspot for that community,” according to Paul Cassady, product support specialist with Thomas Built by Ohio Cat, a school bus distributor serving Southern Ohio, “It’s also an excellent way to keep assets like buses in service and drivers working at a time where there might be uncertainty.”
These systems are relatively straightforward, but it can take some specialized engineering and equipment to be effective. In its simplest form, a bus-based LAN (Local Area Network) would use the power supplied by the vehicle’s battery, which can be continuously recharged using the engine and alternator, to drive a router that operates using a cellular signal. It would be the responsibility of the school district to have a subscription to a data provider (like AT&T or Verizon, for example) to handle anticipated traffic.
Deploying school buses to become WIFI hotspots in underserved communities is a great example of how to use a school district’s existing resources to continue to serve students best interests through the pandemic and beyond.
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