Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S6
EDUCATION WEEK n
April 15, 2015
Blended Learning: Breaking Down Barriers > www.edweek.org/go/blended-barriers
On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
By Michelle R. Davis
s buses in Arizona's Vail school district rumble
across the roads, pedestrians might spot
a curious advertisement on their sides.
Several of those yellow vehicles sport a
sign declaring them to be an "Internet Bus" with
Wi-Fi sponsored by a local business.
It's just one of the ways that the 12,000-student
district is trying to provide students with useful access
to the Internet outside the school day and school
buildings. Known for its emphasis on the digital-
the district has a high school that uses only digital
textbooks, and other schools in the system have
extensive blended- and online-learning programs-
the Vail district has transformed 12 of its 93 buses
into rolling Wi-Fi hotspots. The district is just one of
many around the country to have placed an emphasis
on improving students' connectivity on their way
to and from school.
In the 425-square-mile district southeast of Tucson,
long bus routes and commutes to sporting
events can take more than an hour.
Before the district launched the mobile Wi-Fi
program, students "were losing learning time," said
Superintendent Calvin Baker. The bus connectivity
"certainly extends the opportunity for students to
have access to the Internet."
The program was launched more than five years
ago, and it established Vail as one of the first districts
in the country to equip buses with Internet connections.
Currently, four of the district's 12 Wi-Fi buses
are sponsored by local business, said John V. Nunes,
the assistant director of transportation. He came up
with the idea of Wi-Fi on buses because his daughters
attended the all-digital high school, played on
sports teams, and needed a way to get their homework
done on long bus rides to and from events.
In addition to students getting their schoolwork
done while commuting, a side benefit has been a decline
in behavioral problems on buses because students
are occupied, Mr. Nunes said.
The districts' arrangement for equipping the
buses has evolved over time. Early on, the district
used a different type of Wi-Fi device that needed an
antenna, but it was difficult to meet federal motorcarrier
regulations for mounting it to make sure it
wasn't a safety hazard, Mr. Nunes said. In addition,
the metal and aluminum in the bus often scuttled
the antenna's reception. "That was one of the big
headaches," he said.
Vail now uses Verizon Cradlepoint devices, which
are often distributed to drivers when they get their
bus-route information and keys. Five buses with
the longest routes permanently have the Wi-Fi devices,
which are attached to the dashboard of the
bus and plugged into a bus power outlet.
The Verizon devices act more like a cellphone
and eliminate the need for antennae. Initially, the
district spent $250 to acquire units and paid a
$40 per month user fee for each. But now, Verizon
has wrapped the costs into the district communications
bill, and the district pays $15 per device,
Mr. Nunes said.
The biggest problem these days is that there
are not enough Wi-Fi systems to meet the district's
needs, Mr. Nunes said. Parents will often
call and complain if their children are on long bus
rides without Internet access.
Experts say this type of program is fairly low cost
and easy to replicate by other districts.
Evan Marwell, the ceo of EducationSuperHighway,
a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates improved
school broadband connections, said that even
though it's not an overall solution to the broader problem
of Internet access for students outside of school,
equipping a bus is a "creative" fix that can have an
impact on some students. "Schools are doing this, and
it's making a difference," he said.
Mr. Nunes said his district has fielded dozens of
inquiries from districts as far away as England and
Australia on how to set up similar programs
The evolution of the bus hotspots in the Vail district
has coincided with the evolution of schoolwork
there, Mr. Nunes noted.
"Even the elementary and middle schools are shifting
to more technology, and students are getting iPads
and Chromebooks," he said. "Students who have the
hardware can get their homework done, can go on
Facebook, can do what they need to do." n
CONTINUED FROM PAGE S5
owned and nondistrict devices connecting on
a regular basis.
The Kent district has made other efforts to
improve online access across the community.
It's a patchwork quilt that gives students a variety
of options for getting on the Web.
The district created a shortcut to an online
map on student devices highlighting nearby
Wi-Fi options. It partnered with nearby businesses
to permit student Wi-Fi use at a Safeway
with a cafeteria, the Golden Steer restaurant's
catering area, and in local churches. The
system also tried a pilot program to pay for students'
home Internet connections, but it didn't
have the desired impact, Mr. Nguyen said.
Boosting students' access to reliable, highspeed
Internet service has been a priority
among federal policymakers. Late last year,
the fcc approved a broad swath of changes
to the federal E-rate program, which supports
Web connectivity in schools, including
an annual boost of $1.5 billion in the program's
But those changes were not focused on expanding
home Internet access. Fcc Commissioner
Jessica Rosenworcel is urging the federal
agency to account for what she describes
as the "homework gap" through revisions to
the federal Lifeline program. Ms. Rosenworcel
has proposed recasting the Lifeline program,
created in 1985 to provide discounts
on phone service to low-income customers, to
give recipients flexibility to choose between
phone service and home broadband access.
"We should take a hard look at that program
and ask how we can evolve it so it's better
suited for broadband," Ms. Rosenworcel said.
Federal officials need to focus on "how we can
get more households connected," she added,
"especially those with school-age children."
For individual districts trying to increase
out-of-school connectivity, one of the most
obvious barriers is the high price tag, said
Marie Bjerede, the project director for the
Consortium for School Networking's Smart
Education Networks by Design initiative,
which supports districts' attempts to expand
With many K-12 efforts to bring Wi-Fi into
home communities, the cost is often "so prohibitive,
it hasn't been a conversation that has
really hit the mainstream," she said.
In the Kent district, for example, much of its
investment in digital technology has come from
a series of technology bond measures approved
by the community, Mr. Nguyen said. The district
received a $10,000 donation from wireless
network company Meraki toward the kiosk
project, and Absolute Software paid for one as
well. Some organizations and partners, like the
King County Housing Authority, pay for the Internet
connection themselves, Mr. Nguyen said.
What's more, the placement of kiosks in
community centers run by the King County
Housing Authority has helped cement the
relationship between its education programs
and the school district, said Ted Dezember.
He manages the housing authority's education
initiatives, which include preschool and
"The kiosks are a physical presence of the
school district inside the building," Mr. Dezember
said. "It symbolizes a true partnership."
For educators like Cedar Heights Middle
School Principal Heidi Maurer, maintaining
that bond is critical.
Many of her students live in public housing
and spend hours at the Birch Creek Youth Center.
Some of her teachers provide weekly tutoring
at the center and conduct outreach with
parents to introduce them to the Wi-Fi systems
and the Skyward Family Access system.
"Our kids need to have access to the Internet
and the tools associated with the Internet
to function," Ms. Maurer said. "The kiosks
help families access student information so
they feel a part of what's going on." n
Scenic Hill Elementary
Kent-Meridian High School
Birch Creek Youth Center
The Kent, Wash., school system has
created kiosks that emit free Wi-Fi
and allow easy connections to the
district student-information system.
The kiosks are placed in local
schools and youth centers.
Meeker Middle School
Valli Kee Youth Center
Cascade Youth Center
Panther Lake Elementary
Meridian Middle School
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
District Establishes Wi-Fi In Local Community
K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Centralized Purchasing Brings Rewards for D.C.
District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Contents
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S7
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S9
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S11
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S13
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S14
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S15
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S17
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S18
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S19
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S21
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S22
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S23
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S25
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S26
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S27
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S28