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Nevis School activity bus now offers Wi-Fi

It wasn’t all that long ago that wireless internet, or “Wi-Fi”, seemed like a luxury only to be used for specific purposes by large corporations or complex businesses.

But at Nevis school district, it’s now in a school bus.

The activity bus – used to transport sports programs, speech and other extracurricular activities – will now be capable of transmitting a Wi-Fi signal, provided by Verizon wireless and capable of maintaining a 10GB bandwidth.

Originated as an idea to further utilize their “one-to-one” tablet initiative in which every student is district-issued a Microsoft tablet, Superintendent Steve Rassier sees the added Wi-Fi as a great resource for students trying to make the most of their time while on long rides to and from events.

“The idea fed off the fact that we were going to be issuing students the tablets this year, everybody K-12. We then heard that Bemidji had installed Wi-Fi in their buses, and they must have seven or eight with it by now. I then heard that Park Rapids has it and if Park Rapids has it, then we’re going to have it. Whatever they’ve got, we’re going to try and do it better,” Rassier said.

“The thought was then let’s try it and see how it works, but let’s put it on the activity bus, because we know those students will spend (sometimes) a couple of hours on that activity bus. For many of them, they have academic work that they need to get done. While they are traveling between here and Lake of the Woods, they can power up their tablets with the Wi-Fi and do some homework,” Rassier said.

Rassier sees great benefit in allowing students to better utilize their time by using the Wi-Fi while traveling.

“We also had the suggestion from a couple of parents that kids could get some homework done when we travel. We’ve seen a lot of kids involved with athletics that will take a backpack and they’re doing math problems and reading their English, or studying for social studies test on the bus,” Rassier said.

“Now, they can do all of their homework on these long bus trips and not have to bring all those materials. We are also going to be monitoring to make sure they are not downloading movies and stuff like that. We will restrict access and it will have the same filter that we have here in school. They will have access to all of the programs that our school has, but they won’t be able to access some of the things that we don’t want them to access. I think the biggest thing is the bus now will essentially become an extension of the classroom,” Rassier said.

In a perfect world, Rassier hopes the Wi-Fi’s installment will go smoothly, allowing a quick transition period.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to install. We just bought the router from Verizon and it will be mounted in the bus. We buy a data plan; we are going with the 10GB plan which they have told us will more than cover what we need it for,” Rassier said.

“The Wi-Fi will only be on the activity bus, which doesn’t go out on daily routes. It is pretty well reserved only for activity trips such as football, basketball, volleyball, the knowledge-bowl and so on. Tomorrow our knowledge-bowl team leaves for Brainerd at 8 a.m. and won’t get back until about 4 p.m. As they travel, if they have homework to submit or research to do, they would be able to do it as they are traveling. Maybe it’ll even take care of discipline problems on the bus; students are going to be so busy. The bus will probably be used about three to four times a week on some sort of activity trip. Whenever we have students on it, they will be able to use that Internet connection,” Rassier said.

The new feature will be budgeted as a district expense. Its funding will come out of Nevis’ technology budget and no additional funding will be necessary.

“The equipment and access point was $600 and from there it will be $80 a month for the 10GB bandwidth. We had a discussion on whether we would go through Verizon or AT&T, but both Bemidji and Park Rapids told us that they went with Verizon because they had very good coverage wherever their buses would go. We figured if it works for those two districts then it should work for us,” Rassier said.

Todd Kumpula, network coordinator for Park Rapids area schools, oversaw the installment of the Wi-Fi currently in three Park Rapids buses and sees benefit once the product is in full effect.

“Students are able to get their assignments, research and turn in homework while on the bus for activities. Accessibility is important in our time. If we can make it easier for students and staff, then we should. If the tools are there, let’s use them as best as we can,” Kumpula said.

“Maintaining the status quo so to speak is not good enough anymore. We need to use the tools that are out there, especially in education where the students are our future. We have to be able to successfully implement the technologies that we have. The world of technology is moving ever faster; somehow we need to be able to keep up. We need to embrace the leaders and help those that struggle, so it’s kind of a balancing act to tie all together and make sure we don’t lose those that struggle,” Kumpula said.

Overall, Rassier remains visibly excited to see the idea come to fruition.

“The students on the activity bus are probably some of our best academic students; those are the kids that I think are going to use it a lot. I don’t think it’ll be an unnecessary distraction. I always say with my kids, ‘busy hands are happy hands.’ If they use it like they should, it will be a very good investment,” Rassier said.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
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