RANCHESTER, Wyo. — Sheridan County School District #1’s transportation department has integrated the use of iPads on its school buses, a move that is helping to increase safety and efficiency.
The district serves about 1,000 K-12 students, and every student in kindergarten through fifth grade has access to an iPad or computer in the classroom. Every middle school student has a take-home iPad, and high schoolers have a take-home laptop.
Therefore, utilizing the iPads on the buses and within the transportation department was a natural progression of efforts taking place district-wide.
Transportation Director Lori Thornburg told SBF that there are 20 iPads assigned to 20 vehicles, which allows the transportation staff to ensure that any bus driver — even a substitute driver — has access to the technology that is available through the device.
She said that the staff uses the technology to access district communication, emergency contact numbers, road and travel reports and weather conditions.
“We are realizing greater efficiencies in our daily planning and management of timesheets and trip sheets for regular routes, field trips and sports activities,” Thornburg added. “We have streamlined tracking of students, including giving drivers access to pictures of the riders on the bus for faster recognition of who is assigned to ride that bus and for student discipline slips if needed.”
GIS has been integrated too, which allows the staff to pull students’ addresses from Powerschool and map routes for greater efficiencies. The Powerschool integration also allows bus drivers to have important health information about students — like allergies — to ensure they remain safe while on the bus.
Instant messaging and FaceTime are also accessible through the iPads. Thornburg said instant messaging allows her to safely convey information to and receive information from the bus drivers.
“It’s a nice addition to the use of radios, which are sometimes not the best choice for communication,” she explained. “FaceTime is another communications addition we really like because it allows the drivers to communicate face-to-face with school mechanics to manage repairs in real time. We remain open to apps that enhance our work, like a new speedometer app that we just added and now use as a backup to our primary vehicle speedometers.”
Thornburg uses an iPad to monitor what goes on throughout the system on a daily basis, and beginning in November, all of the district’s principals and administrators will have iPads, and they will be able to check bus routes, including the whereabouts of any bus on a route or student on the bus.
Thornburg said that the transportation department went into this project knowing that it would require state auditor approval for the expense of the iPads.
“We began by working with David Koskelowski, program manager, pupil transportation, at the Wyoming Department of Education, and Wyoming’s state director, to find out if he felt the integration of technology would be accepted by the state auditors,” she explained. “David liked the idea and worked with the state auditors to ensure reimbursed funding would be approved. It was, with one stipulation: that the iPads be assigned to buses and not individuals.”
Everyone in the transportation staff was trained on how to properly use the iPad, and how to maximize its usefulness. When using the iPads, transportation team members are required to adhere to the district’s policies on using digital equipment. As safety is of the utmost importance, bus drivers are not allowed to use the iPads when they are operating a school bus.