By Mitchell Boatman, reporter from The Holland Sentinel
Holland Public Schools is launching a pilot program to turn those long bus rides into an opportunity to be productive. The district is equipping a bus with internet so students can access learning tools on their district-issued devices.
“This is in recognition that student athletes spend a great deal of time traveling to away events,” HPS Superintendent Brian Davis said. “A lot of time they’re not back until 9 p.m. or later and might have two hours of homework.
“This is meant to bridge the time gap for student athletes. We all recognize our athletes as scholar athletes — academics are first. We want to make sure they are excelling in the classroom, and this is one way to assist them.”
Davis said the program will start as a pilot with the soccer program because boys soccer coach and teacher Greg Ceithaml is also a certified bus driver and experienced with technology.
Internet will be filtered through the school’s normal system, meaning student access will be limited to school appropriate content, Davis said. It will be available only on district devices, meaning it’s not a public network.
“The driver will activate the Wi-Fi and it will be automatically connected with school devices. They will have access on the way to the event, during the event and on the way back,” Davis said.
HPS has been working with its wireless provider for “the past couple of years” to figure out a way to make this possible, according to Davis. He said the cost of putting a router on a bus is about $1,000.
The program will start small and the district will track how much the service is used and conduct focus groups and surveys with students to judge expansion for the project.
Davis said that having multiple teams travel on one bus can make for a long day for students.
“When teams travel together, they might be at a location for four, five, six hours,” he said. “That’s four, five or six hours they can work on homework. Then, when they get home, they have more time for family time or getting rest and might not have to stay up past midnight doing homework.”
Once the program is beyond the pilot stage and more fine-tuned, Davis said a long term goal is to have buses serve as mobile hotspots in the summer, similar to mobile bus libraries in some districts.
“My long term goal... is addressing how might we make the school bus a hotspot where we could take virtual learning to students during the summer,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal, but we’ve got to start smaller.”