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Students get more homework time on bus rides

Lukas Gotto1 / 3
Matt Salo, head mechanic with Alexandria schools Transportation Department, installs a device to provide Internet access on a school bus. Submitted photo.2 / 3
Eric Welle3 / 3

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Technology is taking over our world — and our school buses.

When school starts Tuesday, Sept. 5, Alexandria Public Schools will unveil its newest districtwide study tool — Internet access on school and activity buses. The project, which was piloted last year with sports and activities buses, aims to provide students with a little more study time.

"We have kids that ride a bus home for 20 minutes, a half-hour, an hour," said Lukas Gotto, technology integration specialist and former social studies teacher at Discovery Middle School. "But that's time you can be utilizing before and after school to be working on stuff, so when you get home you can actually be using that time to be doing more family-oriented things. Everyone's so busy. Any extra time you can fit in there is important."

To put things in perspective, according to Transportation Services Supervisor Mike Wencl, the Alexandria School District will have 54 route buses on the road this year, collectively driving more than 200 hours a day. As for students on board? Upwards of 3,500 a day.

Gotto, who is a middle school football, basketball and baseball coach, experienced the pilot project firsthand with his athletes last year.

"It's fun and exciting, just like getting a new phone... but after that honeymoon period wore off — which was pretty quick, a few rides — then you really start to see that engagement and that time management," he said. "Like, 'Oh, I'm already on the bus sitting here. I might as well do all my homework.' The kids got really good at utilizing their time well."

One of the students who used Wi-Fi during the pilot period last year was Eric Welle, a recently graduated Alexandria Area High School senior.

"I used the Wi-Fi with my Chromebook when traveling to swim meets. It was beneficial because not only could I work on my homework, I could access the internet to get help with something I was stuck on, or do some research if I was working on a paper," Welle said.

In implementing Wi-Fi, the district also hopes to ease some of the stress that often accompanies sports and activities seasons for students. Gotto, as a former teacher, has seen some of the effects of crazy student schedules in the classroom.

"It's really cool to have students do multiple activities and multiple sports," he said. "I do believe the more things they can do the better, but then again where do you fit in your academics? It can be overwhelming trying to balance it all, especially as a student. They're students over athletes."