More Blue Springs students will enjoy faster Internet access after getting on the W.E.E. Learning Bus.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
A modified school bus outfitted with 20 computer stations, the W.E.E. bus represents the latest effort of Blue Springs educators to make online accessibility a reality for more students.
The bus will bring both the Internet and required hardware to students in their own neighborhoods. Such access is a requirement for academic achievement today, said Bill Cowling, Blue Springs School District assistant superintendent who helped develop the concept.
Some families don’t have computers or Internet access, he said. “We wanted to bridge that gap,” he said.
But there’s another goal, Cowling said: creating community.
“We have great parents in Blue Springs, but we always want to try to be better connected,” he said. The bus also has been outfitted with Wi-Fi hardware courtesy of Sprint, Cowling said.
“So we can put out folding tables and chairs, and parents can bring out their laptops for job searching or resume building,” he said.
The bus is thought to be the only one of its kind in Missouri.
“It was a group idea that goes back almost nine or 10 years,” said Cowling.
“It was sketched out on a piece of scrap paper that then sat in a file for a long time. We were just trying to brainstorm, to develop ideas that would increase connections between the school district and parents. So we were talking about putting some computers on a school bus and taking it into neighborhoods.”
Cowling and his colleagues had heard of similar projects. A computer-equipped bus in Brownsville, Texas, offers assistance to adults learning second languages. A separate project in Indiana serves students.
But then the Women Endowing Education organization, affiliated with the nonprofit Blue Springs Education Foundation, announced a request for grant applications. The organization seeks to bring together influential women to pool resources and fund worthy projects in the Blue Springs School District.
“We thought the W.E.E. group was the perfect group to operate the bus,” Cowling said.
“It’s a unique way to help improve student achievement,” added Katherine Barton, a member of the education foundation’s advisory board.
“Obviously we have computer labs in our schools, but when students go home and it’s time to do some homework, that homework might be improved if they had access to the Internet.”
The W.E.E. bus soon will begin making trips to various Blue Springs neighborhoods. But it will be the subsequent conversations between residents and the W.E.E. Bus volunteers that Cowling is also excited about.
“Maybe some of those parents are not that involved in the school community,” Cowling said. “Now maybe somebody will ask them if they want to come out to the school and help them with track and field day.
“The bus is just the conduit. It will help start those conversations.”
To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to email@example.com.