Students in a rural Arkansas district have found a way to put their long bus rides to good use: work on math and science enrichment.
The Aspirnaut Initiative, a program based at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, has begun furnishing students in the 4,300 student Sheridan, Ark., district with laptops and iPods to use for extra instruction in math and science. The state legislature has expressed interest in expanding the program.
The word “aspirnaut” refers to a student who seeks to achieve, according to the organization’s Web site.
The elementary through high school students, who commute for more than an hour from rural Grapevine, Ark., into Sheridan, are encouraged to use the bus ride to take online classes in math and science, including Advanced Placement courses. And those who aren’t interested in the classes can use the video iPods for enrichment games and programs in those subjects.
“It’s dark when they get on the bus in the winter months; it’s dark when they get off the bus,” said Dr. Julie Hudson, the initiative’s program director and a professor of clinical anesthesiology at Vanderbilt.
She said that in many cases, students couldn’t participate in after-school enrichment activities because the bus is the only way they can travel to and from school.
Dr. Hudson, a pediatric anesthesiologist, started the program with her husband, Billy Hudson, the director of the Center for Matrix Biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who grew up in Grapevine.
She said the couple wanted to share their love of math and science and help build a pipeline of future researchers and doctors. “I’m enthused about igniting that passion,” Dr. Hudson said.
Dr. Hudson is seeking state funding to expand the program as early as the 2009-10 school year. She said that if the legislature provided $2 million in the first year and an additional $1.5 million for the next two years, about 2,000 more students per year could take advantage of it.
Dr. Hudson testified on the program before the Arkansas House and Senate education committees last month.
A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2008 edition of Education Week