Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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Toledo Public Schools to pilot Wi-Fi capable buses

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Students with Toledo Public Schools with particularly lengthy commutes will be able to pass the time productively this year thanks to a technological upgrade to their school buses. 

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School buses lined up at the Toledo Public Schools bus garage will now be more than simply a ride home, as 10 buses are now outfitted with Wi-Fi capabilities.

The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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Ten yellow buses are now outfitted with Wi-Fi capabilities, part of a pilot program that aims to give students the opportunity to complete assignments on their way to and from classes.

“It’s like a study hall on wheels,” TPS Operations Manager Loren Johnson said.

Jim Gault, the district’s chief academic officer, said some students ride the bus for up to 45 minutes each way, and officials wanted to make the ride “easier, enjoyable, and more productive.”

“We believe it has the potential to not only help academically, but also improve behavior on the buses,” Mr. Gault said.

The majority of high school students at TPS ride Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority buses, so the Wi-Fi services will mostly benefit students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Bus-riders will be able to tap into the TPS wireless network, which limits which websites students can access.

For now students will have to use their own phones, tablets, or laptops, but Mr. Gault said district leaders are looking into the possibility of putting laptops on the buses that have Wi-Fi capability so that students who don’t own a device can still take advantage of the new technology.

He said the district will track the academic performance of students who ride those buses and their behavior to see if it’s worth adding Wi-Fi to more routes. “If this works the way that we hope in terms of making a positive impact on academics and behavior, then we can look to expand the service,” Mr. Gault said.

It costs $2,600 per bus to add the necessary equipment and pay for a year of Wi-Fi service, and it’s paid for with federal funding.

The TPS transportation department also is offering new technology for parents.

BusBulletin is an opt-in notification system that will alert parents and guardians when delays or incidents affect their child’s route. The district piloted the program with a couple of its schools two years ago, and this year it will expand to the whole district.

“It will let you know when the bus is running behind, if there’s any changes to your route, if there’s going to be a different bus than usual,” Mr. Johnson said. “It will let you know if there was a mechanical breakdown, and we can also notify you if there’s going to be any weather delays.”

He said the program should cost the district less than $5,000 annually. Last year’s price tag was $3,000.

Call volumes to the transportation department are often high, particularly at the start of the school year, Mr. Johnson said. He hopes this new technology will both alleviate the call volume and deliver information to parents faster.

“So the moment our dispatchers are notified there’s going to be any break in the service, we have the ability to send out, within seconds, to let parents know that the bus is going to be delayed,” he said.

He said if a TPS bus is involved in a crash, parents would receive a phone call from a TPS administrator, whether they use the BusBulletin service or not.

Parents can opt to receive a text message alert, automated phone call, email, or all three, and notifications can be delivered in English or Spanish. They don’t have to pay to use the service.

Parents can visit tps.org/​tps-departments/​transportation to sign up or call 419-671-8541 for help registering.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103 or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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