By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
According to the buzz at central office, top administrators with Madison County Schools were jumping around “like a bunch of giddy geeks” after Kentucky’s first-ever, fully-connected, filtered “smart bus” rolled into the parting lot Thursday afternoon.
Superintendent Tommy Floyd attended a conference last summer and overheard another superintendent talking using an internet emitter students could access while traveling to college courses, he said.
Since then, the district’s network manager Jacob Cecil and Dave Sigler with the Kentucky Department of Education had been working on a way to retrofit a regular school bus with filtered internet access.
The smart bus is about “getting information to kids beyond the school day,” Floyd said. “This opens up so many doors.”
For example, in the event of a natural disaster, the district could still get internet access and provide instruction to its students using the internet unit in the bus, said technology director Bob Moore. The internet access unit in the bus can be removed and hooked up to any power source.
The new bus also can be integrated with the summer feeding program, Floyd said.
“We can park the bus and students can use their mobile devices. We can bring out some iPads, and kids can have internet access whether you’re in Poosey Ridge or Union City; from downtown Richmond to downtown Berea.”
Free lunches are provided at certain approved sites based on the free/reduced lunch status of that area, said Emily Agee, the district’s child nutrition director.
Beginning June 1, meals will be delivered to these sites on certain days and using the smart bus or its removable access point, a internet hotspot can be used by the students while enjoying their meals.
More than 90 percent of Madison County students say that they are able to access the internet, Floyd said. And now the remaining percentage could gain access on their way home to school, as well as on field trips and sports trips.
“Other schools will want to do this,” Floyd said of the new bus.
Just how many buses will be retrofitted with the new technology has not been determined, he said.
The hardware to turn the bus into a mobile hotspot is a one-time cost of $300, Moore said. The district would incur a monthly fee of $60 for the mobile 3G hotspot through AT&T, but $42 of that is reimbursed through the Universal Service Fund.
Content is filtered in a way that makes internet access safe for children, Cecil said.
Filtered access keeps the district in compliance with the Children Internet Protection Act of 2000. Being CIPA-compliant means the district is eligible for federal technology money through the Universal Service Fund, Floyd said.
Assistant director of transportation Pat Hoskins said anything that can be used to keep students occupied during a bus ride “is a good thing.”
After 30 years with the district and more than 20 of them driving a bus, Hoskins said this is a great opportunity for students to read and do homework, but most of all, stay occupied.
“You’d be surprised how many young children have smart phones,” she said.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.