Oswego school buses to test WiFi potential
By Jenette Sturges email@example.com March 19, 2013 4:12PM
Four Oswego school buses will be outfitted with WiFi Internet access after spring break. | Sun-Times Media File
Updated: April 21, 2013 6:34AM
OSWEGO — A mobile classroom initiative will roll out with Internet on board some Oswego School District buses in April.
Superintendent Matthew Wendt and Transportation Director Derrick Berlin presented the pilot program, dubbed the “mobile classroom,”’ to the Oswego School Board on Monday.
As part of the pilot program, four school buses will be outfitted with WiFi hotspots that will allow students to use laptops, tablets and phones to connect to the Internet while they are riding the bus.
Wendt said the program was largely aimed at those students who spend long hours on or near a bus, especially student-athletes or students involved in extracurricular activities that compete at other schools around the state, or students on particularly long rural bus routes.
“We have students on bus routes for 20 minutes, but we also have kids away all day in athletic activities, at tournaments early in morning or late at night, those trips where they’re waiting on one game, don’t return home till 9:30 or 10, and it’s a school night,” Wendt said.
He said that Internet access outside the classroom is becoming increasingly important for students.
“More teachers are using the Internet for homework,” Wendt said. “It’s hard to be a kid today and do homework and not have access to the Internet.”
The initial cost for the pilot program will be $350 per bus for the WiFi hardware, plus $60 a month for service.
Wendt said he also expects to see a decrease in discipline issues on school buses, citing a case in another district where bus monitors were no longer needed once students were busy studying or otherwise occupied on WiFi-enabled buses.
As in Oswego schools, Internet service on the buses will be filtered to keep students off inappropriate sites, according to the district.
Though buses with Internet access have been rolled out in school districts in Arizona, Missouri and several other states, Oswego may be the first in Illinois to try putting Internet access on wheels. The Illinois State Board of Education said they did not know if any schools around the state had WiFi on buses.
“I don’t know if we’re the first school district in Illinois to do this,” said Wendt. “I like to be first. We should test the waters.”
If the pilot is successful, he said, a program bringing Internet access to all of the district’s buses would be brought to the school board. Pay-to-Ride
Also on Monday, the board unanimously approved a pay-to-ride program for the 2013-14 school year, which would allow families who live less than 1.5 miles from their schools to pay for bus service.
The service would cost $500 for one student, $900 for two, and $1,300 for three or more students in the same family.
The district will not add routes or stops to its bus service for pay-to-ride students, said Berlin. Students will still need to walk to the closest existing stop.
The board also approved new transportation contracts which, according to Berlin, are expected to save the district more than $400,000 over the next several years.
First Student bus service will replace the district’s current transportation provider, Illinois Central. The new contract will save more than $378,000 over the next three years.
The district also approved a contract that would add an additional 10 buses to the fleet and trade in several others, under a five-year lease agreement that will save the district $44,000 over the next five years.