By RANDY TATANO
Special to Atmore News
Sometimes a school bus is more than a school bus.
In Escambia County, it’s a rolling wi-fi hotspot.
This year 25 of the county’s 100 school buses are equipped with wi-fi, which came in handy when schools closed due to an icy forecast on January 24. Since it was designated as a remote learning day, the buses provided internet access to many of the remote areas not served.
Superintendent Michele McClung says the rolling hotspots make remote learning available to every student when the need arises.
“Since not all students in Escambia County have access to wi-fi at home, we feel it’s imperative that every child have the same opportunities during those times when virtual learning days are a necessity due to an emergency,” she said. “Placing wi-fi hotspots in known areas provides the necessary tools for every student to learn and complete assignments. While in-person learning is always preferred, virtual learning days enable us to stick to the school calendar without extending the school year to make up any time missed.”
Transportation and Safety Supervisor Forrest Jones worked with Technology Coordinator Jamie Burkett to get the systems installed, up and running.
Here’s how it works: on any day remote learning might be required, the buses are sent out the night before and stationed at places around the county: firehouses, churches, parks, farmer’s markets, and the Poarch boys and girls club. Jones says parents or students can simply drive to the nearest wi-fi bus and log on.
“It does a really good job in some of our remote areas, getting the wi-fi out anywhere from one hundred to three hundred feet from the bus, so they can pull up and use the wi-fi in that area,” Jones said.
The system works without having to crank up the buses, so there’s no cost in gasoline.
New buses ordered by the county in the future will be pre-wired with a wi-fi system. For now, no student will be at a disadvantage whenever a remote learning day is required.
Brewton resident Randy Tatano is a veteran TV news reporter and network producer, and is currently a novelist and freelance writer for the Escambia County School System.