Google grants turn school buses into mobile learning centers
- Google has piloted a Rolling Study Halls grant program that equips school buses with Wi-Fi and stripped-down laptops. The program, which Gizmodo said has expanded to more than a dozen schools, allows districts dependent on busing to achieve at least some semblance of a longer school day, describes an article from KQED News.
- Filters in place nudge riders towards choosing educational activities over entertainment, and other, more creative enticements that garner student incentive, including “bus challenges,” where kids tackle reading, competitive quizzes or other extensions of their school-day curriculum.
- The program was created due to the logistics of school bus transportation – which 25 million students in the U.S. use – that involve these vehicles making numerous stops along an indirect route, resulting in a big chunk of wasted time each day. That reality means bus-dependent kids often must miss out on after-school enrichment opportunities.
Schools (and after-school care providers) have been thinking through ways to work with district transportation departments to make bus time more productive for students. The fact that it's typically low-income students in rural and large urban districts – where few students live close enough to school to walk, and wealthier families have the means to drive their kids – saddled with long bus rides gives the effort extra urgency.
The main focus so far as been bus Wi-Fi programs, seen as a largely untapped way of closing the homework gap. Many low-income students don't have W-Fi at home, and a smartphone with a data plan is their sole means of connecting to the internet. This makes homework, more and more of which is being assigned online, difficult or impossible to complete. Students are commonly seen sitting outside closed libraries in low-income neighborhoods trying to latch onto the building's Wi-Fi network. Leveraging the school bus ride, which can be as long as an hour each way in some cases, as time to get homework done can be a step towards narrowing the homework gap.
While staffing school buses with teachers to extend learning time may be impractical – not only due to expenses, but also taking long bus rides at the beginning or end of a full work day is understandably too taxing for many – some districts have trained bus drivers and monitors in how to interact with kids in ways that boost social-emotional learning. An another idea schools are trying is enlisting older students to mentor younger ones on bus rides, which can be a win-win, as high-schoolers polishing up college applications could earn community service hours.