Wi-Fi will soon connect students on Huntsville ISD buses

HUNTSVILLE, Texas - Students in Walker County are about to get a major technology boost along their bus routes. Soon, wi-Fi will be getting on board school buses.

District officials say Huntsville ISD will be the first district in Texas to utilize this technology. Buses will now be equipped with Wi-Fi and GPS features so students can do their assignments along their route.

"We're transporting a large number of students every day, and we don't have these on school buses," said Huntsville ISD Transportation Director Tim Hooks.

Hooks and his team have been working on a solution to get his fleet of school buses and the students they carry connected.

"We go all the way out to the edges of the county, pick students up, and bring them back to our hub system where they then change buses to go to their school campus," said Hooks.

The Huntsville fleet travels more than 600 square miles to pick up and drop off students. Some students are on the bus for more than an hour each way. Hooks said that's why they're introducing new technology called ConnectED Transportation.

"Not only on their routes, but also for those out of town events that they might have to travel two or three hours to, get back late at night, and then have to do their homework," said Hooks.

Riders will have the same website restrictions that they'd have at school.

Tracie Simental, the executive director of technology for Huntsville ISD, says the new system will also alert parents when their children get on and off the bus. She said each driver will carry a tablet that gives them a list they can check the students off on their routes.

"This will allow it to automatically send out text messages that will tell you on certain points, like, 'we're at the statue, be there in 15 minutes,' so parents can prepare," said Simental.

The technology can also send back maintenance information for each bus to the transportation department.

As for the cost, the pilot program provided by technology company Presidio is for 15 buses and will set the district back $59,000. The cost would normally be higher, but because Huntsville is the first district to get it, they're getting a reduced price. The cost for monthly Wi-Fi access is a separate fee for the district through AT&T, which offers them unlimited data for the state rate.