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Wireless wheels: Belton students use tablets and other devices on the road

Updated: 2014-02-12T00:29:11Z

By TRACI ANGEL

Special to The Star

Doing homework while traveling to games, debates and other school events is getting easier for Belton students.

The Belton School District has fitted two buses so far with technology that allows students to use their tablets and other wireless devices on trips.

Senior Jessica Dolan accessed crucial evidence during a ride to a speech and debate tournament at William Chrisman High School in Independence. She looked up the material on her laptop during the 45-minute ride north from Belton High School.

“I was doing a last-minute search for my Lincoln- Douglas debate,” she said.

The district start exploring wireless buses about two years ago, said technology director Tony Arbisi. With city commuter buses in mind, school officials discussed the possibility of putting the technology on buses.

Arbisi played football in school and remembered rides home without much lighting and homework awaiting him on his return.

“(These trips) often are a lot of time where students aren’t doing anything, and if we wanted to make them like a moving study hall they needed access to the Internet,” Arbisi said.

Coaches and team leaders have started to reserve the buses for longer trips, said athletic activities director George Shrum. The girls’ basketball team was headed to Warrensburg, Mo., in mid-December and the students hoped to study for exams before the holiday break.

Coaches, too, can update statistics, check email or handle their teaching lesson plans and assignments during road trips, Shrum said.

The district received the equipment from Verizon, and officials equipped two buses last fall for the longer distance events and competitions.

Wireless services filter the content to make sure that all work is school-appropriate.

The $5,000 needed for the pilot project came from money budgeted for the technology.

Arbisi said officials are seeing how much students use the services and how helpful it is before going forward with additional funding or hooking up additional buses.

The same technology potentially could be used to help bus commuters in lower-income areas where Internet access might not be as widely available, Arbisi said.

The technology upgrade is part of the Belton district’s 1:1 initiative, which is geared to provide all students with technology they can use in the classroom and at home. High school students received laptops at the first of the year.

With the initiative, students pay a user fee and can do work around the district to cover the fee. Families receiving free and reduced lunch are charged a reduced amount. Students will be charged for damaged or lost devices.

The North Kansas City School District started its wireless school bus program last school year and has five buses with the technology, said Doug Ward, who serves as transportation liaison for the district.

Like Belton, the program also started as a progression of a district technology effort to allow each student access to a laptop or tablet computer. Ward expects that the district might increase the number of buses with the technology as need arises

Speech and debate students at North Kansas City High School have events nearly every weekend, with some events as far as Columbia or St. Louis.

“That’s two to four hours they have to do research and prepare,” Ward said. “On the way back they catch up on classwork. It’s a very efficient use of time.”

Dolan, the Belton student, said her recent encounter with the technology proved helpful during her debate, but she imagines other uses for wireless access because many of her classes use Web-based study materials.

“I could see using this on a lot of trips,” she said.

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