Rural Schools Make Learning Part Of Long Bus Rides

By Diette Courrégé Casey — August 19, 2011 1 min read
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Rural children often face longer commutes than their urban peers, and the West Virginia Board of Education is hoping a pilot program will make that a more productive time for students.

The state is giving four rural schools iPod touches and access to electronic and audio books so students can read on the bus.

They’re spending about $95,000 to buy the iPod touches and eBooks. Students who aren’t part of the pilot will be able to use their personal iPods to download books, and library media specialists will help students pick books based on their reading abilities. Some money also will be used to train media specialists.

Liza Cordeiro, the education department’s executive director of communications, said the money should cover about 180 books for each elementary and middle school and 360 titles for the high schools. Students also can download about 20,000 classic titles that are out of copyright and are free.

The Books on the Bus program is part of the education department’s Read WV campaign to encourage reading. The state plans to apply for a $20,000 Title I School Improvement grant to provide equipment for one more pilot school.

Cordeiro said the idea for the program came from the state’s executive director of transportation, Ben Shew, who saw a need for it. The schools picked had the longest commutes, a minimum of 30 minutes for the elementary school, 45 minutes for the middle school, and 60 minutes for the high school. Special education students will use the devices during the day for enrichment.

West Virginia isn’t the first place where educators are trying to make better use of students’ lengthy bus commutes. About 25 districts across the country, both rural and urban, have signed up to install internet routers on buses, according to an NPR story.

And one school bus in rural Pope County in Arkansas takes the cake. The bus in Hector School District has been transformed into a mobile classroom, complete with five computer screens, earphone jacks, wireless internet, video-conferencing capabilities, and a separate scanning device to record bus activity.

Providing an educational opportunity during a long commute seems like a good idea, but is the rural Arkansas district taking it too far? How much should schools be investing in these kinds of efforts? My bet is we’ll be talking more about these issues in the future.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.