Sometimes a school bus is more than a school bus.

In Escambia County, it’s a rolling wi-fi hotspot.

This year, 25 of the county’s 100 school buses are equipped with WiFi, which came in handy when schools closed due to an icy forecast on January 24th. Since it was designated as a remote learning day, the buses provided internet access to many of the remote areas not served.

Superintendent Michele McClung said the rolling hotspots make remote learning available to every student when the need arises.

"Since not all students in Escambia County have access to WiFi at home, we feel it's imperative that every child have the same opportunities during those times when virtual learning days are a necessity due to an emergency," said McClung. "Placing WiFi hotspots in known areas provides the necessary tools for every student to learn and complete assignments. While in-person learning is always preferred, virtual learning days enable us to stick to the school calendar without extending the school year to make up any time missed."

Transportation and Safety Supervisor Forrest Jones worked with Technology Coordinator Jamie Burkett to get the systems installed, up and running.

Here's how it works: On any day remote learning might be required, the buses are sent out the night before and stationed at places around the county: firehouses, churches, parks, farmer’s markets, and the Poarch boys and girls club. Jones said parents or students can simply drive to the nearest WiFi bus and log on.

“It does a really good job in some of our remote areas, getting the WiFi out anywhere from 100 to 300 ft. from the bus, so they can pull up and use the WiFi in that area," said Jones.

The system works without having to crank up the buses, so there’s no cost in gasoline.

New buses ordered by the county in the future will be pre-wired with a WiFi system. For now, no student will be at a disadvantage whenever a remote learning day is required.

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