School Buses Now Take Wireless Internet For A Ride The Vail School District in southern Arizona last year installed a wireless router above the front windshield in buses for students who have long commutes. After hearing about the program, about 25 U.S. school districts have also signed up for the service. But one concern for administrators is making sure every student has a laptop.
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School Buses Now Take Wireless Internet For A Ride

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School Buses Now Take Wireless Internet For A Ride

School Buses Now Take Wireless Internet For A Ride

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If your kids don't get enough YouTube at home, now they can enjoy it on the school bus, we learn, at least in southern Arizona, where the Vail School District has decided to outfit their school bus with Wi-Fi. It's a high tech trend.

And as Peter O'Dowd of member station KJZZ reports, it's getting attention from schools across the country.

(Soundbite of school bus)

Mr. J.J. JOHNSON: Good morning.

Unidentified Man #1: Good morning, J.J.

PETER O'DOWD: Each school day, bus driver J.J. Johnson picks up his passengers outside a local fairground. Thus begins the unique journey to Empire High School. The bus ride sweeps through the sparse high desert near Sonoita, a short drive from the U.S.-Mexico border. The Vail School District covers more than 400 square miles, and these students can easily spend more than 2.5 hours on a school bus every day.

According to freshman Jerod Reyes, the commute is long.

Mr. JEROD REYES: Really, really long.

O'DOWD: But ever since November, Reyes and his bus mates have enjoyed a distraction, or a study aid, depending on the moment. This morning Reyes is finishing his Spanish homework. He's also playing a video game on the Internet. He says getting a Web connection on the bus is really cool.

Mr. REYES: Let's say you have, like, a world history project that you need to get done, if you have to do research or get pictures for, like, a PowerPoint that you're making, just go on the Internet and get it, instead of having to wait until you get to school.

O'DOWD: To pull this off, the district installed a wireless router just above the front windshield. Matt Federoff is Vail's head of technology. He says that little black box creates an instant Internet hotspot. It lights up the bus 150 feet in all directions.

Mr. MATT FEDEROFF (Head of Technology, Vail School District): It's amazing to me - who remembers the Internet coming over a modem - that we now can provide a faster Internet experience to 40-plus kids in a moving vehicle going down the highway. That is still just that's magic.

Mr. STERLING PRATZ (CEO, Autonet): Oh, it's been great. It's one of the best transactions we have in the company.

O'DOWD: Sterling Pratz is the CEO of Autonet. It's the company that makes the routers, which had been primarily for private vehicles.

Mr. PRATZ: People went from connecting their homes to connecting their handsets. And now they're moving into the next evolution, which is connecting things. And vehicles are the next logical step.

O'DOWD: Pratz says school bus connectivity wasn't even on his radar a few months ago, but he says about 25 U.S. school districts, both rural and urban, have signed up after hearing about Vail's program. Autonet has now adapted the service for schools. Its filters prevent kids from accessing adult content.

Vanderbilt University's Julie Hudson says she's surprised the Internet-bus concept hasn't caught on sooner.

Professor JULIE HUDSON (Vanderbilt University): Wiring buses is not expensive and it's not technically challenging. So, why don't more districts do that?

O'DOWD: Well, perhaps because laptops are expensive and not every family can afford one.

Prof. HUDSON: That's a harder nut to crack.

O'DOWD: With Vanderbilt's support, Hudson leads a three-year-old program in rural Arkansas called Aspirnaut. It's connected three school buses to the Internet for about 1,000 bucks each. But that program also gives laptops to its students. Hudson says she's optimistic that eventually laptops will become widespread in the public school system.

(Soundbite of school bus)

O'DOWD: That's the way it works for the kids at Empire High School in Arizona. Empire doesn't use textbooks and it offers every student a laptop for their studies. But let's be honest, it's probably useless to ask kids to use the Internet exclusively for schoolwork, especially on a bus.

(Soundbite of school bus)

Ms. SENORA CUBIAS(ph): Okay, so you open a tab and you're going to search in Google the movie "The Ugly Truth."

O'DOWD: Movie trivia, it passes the time for senior Senora Cubias.

Ms. CUBIAS: Hopefully it comes up with a movie and it isn't blocked.

O'DOWD: Administrators say they don't mind a little distraction as long as it's clean. But driver J.J. Johnson says students like it. And with less idle time, he says they're not fighting as much or making nearly as many spit wads.

Mr. JOHNSON: They arrive at school happy, healthy and ready to learn.

(Soundbite of school bus)

Unidentified Man #1: Bye, have a good day, see ya, J.J.

Mr. JOHNSON: Bye.

Unidentified Man #2: Have a good day, J.J. Have a good day.

Unidentified Man #3: J.J., don't go yet.

O'DOWD: For NPR News, I'm Peter O'Dowd.

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