WiFi on Wheels: School bus converted into mobile classroom to keep kids connected

Six students work at computer stations inside of a converted school bus
The converted school bus brings internet access to students who don’t have wifi service at home.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Rolling V Bus Corp., Sullivan 180 and Sullivan BOCES have partnered to create an innovative remote-learning environment providing Internet access for students: a mobile classroom in a converted school bus.

The mobile classroom enables students to learn remotely while being socially distanced. Development of the concept began when the group discussed the need after the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in the spring of 2020. The project came to fruition when Assemblywoman Gunther obtained $7,000 for the initiative, and Rolling V repurposed a school bus. Seats were either removed or rotated to create separate work stations for students, and electric and Internet access was installed.

“The partnership among my office, Rolling V Bus Corp., Sullivan 180 and Sullivan BOCES has been a fantastic example of how we can work together to provide innovative and vital services to the students of Sullivan County,” Assemblywoman Gunther said. “Thanks to the Mobile Classroom, students throughout the county will be able to access high-speed Internet to help them learn remotely as we make our way through the pandemic.”

The  pandemic closed many school buildings and inspired remote learning. Most students and teachers use Google classroom, requiring consistent, reliable online access. However, some students lacked online access to their classrooms due to no broadband, poor connections or insufficient hotspots. Hurdles for some also included the inability to travel to where Internet access was available. Students facing these obstacles were left with no online learning options.

“This pandemic has shown that reliable broadband internet service must be expanded throughout the County, and we have seen the immense hardship placed on families that currently lack this access. This is a creative short-term solution to help our children meet the new demands of schooling while we continue to push for a more robust broadband infrastructure in the County. I am always proud to see the productive and inventive collaborations that our community creates in response to crisis and I am proud to have been a part of this project,” added Assemblywoman Gunther.

“At Rolling V, we’re fully invested in our students and could not sit by and let the COVID-19 pandemic impair their opportunities to learn,” said Rolling V CEO Phil Vallone. “This bus will provide an educational haven for students who may have nowhere else to turn to gain online access to their classes and studies.”

“We are proud to collaborate with Assemblywoman Gunther, Rolling V and Sullivan 180 to create educational access in this new, exciting way. This project builds upon our mission to support learning opportunities within our community,” said Robert M. Dufour, Ed.D, District Superintendent/CEO at Sullivan BOCES. “Our teams worked well together and were thrilled to come up with this innovative mobile classroom. Students and staff from our career and technical education (CTE) welding and construction programs were instrumental in conceptualizing and creating the workstations for the mobile learning environment.”

Timothy Dirie, a CTE Welding student in the Liberty Central School District, was one of the students who built the workstations’ frames. “I enjoy building things with my hands, and it was an added bonus that I could help other students and the community with this project. I think the mobile classroom is a perfect solution for those who do not have Internet for their classes,” said Dirie.

Dufour said that it’s exciting that this innovative mobile classroom is available to all Sullivan County students, not just BOCES students. School districts can reserve use of the mobile classroom on their remote instruction days.

The vision for the mobile classroom’s use stretches beyond the pandemic. Rolling V and BOCES plan on continued access to schools and community organizations like Sullivan 180, the Center for Workforce Development, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sullivan Allies Leading Together (SALT) and Sullivan Renaissance. Other options include job fairs, education tours, showcasing of community programs and other considerations that would benefit the community.

“The solution BOCES has worked out with Rolling V is wonderfully creative and collaborative, and it will provide a much-needed service,” said Legislature Vice Chair Michael Brooks, who also chairs the Sullivan County Broadband Local Development Corporation (LDC). “But it’s also evidence of why we need to provide high-speed wireless Internet service across Sullivan County, so that our kids get all the educational opportunities they deserve, right where they live, 24/7. That’s exactly what the Sullivan County Broadband LDC is aiming to achieve, and we are thrilled to have BOCES District Superintendent Robert Dufour as a member of our LDC’s talented and accomplished board.”

“I’m so grateful that the Liberty Central School District has been chosen to pilot this innovative approach to bringing much needed technological resources to our students,” said Liberty Central School District Superintendent Augustine E. Tornatore, Ed.D.

Dr. Tornatore said the district has been providing “hot spots” to Liberty students without Internet access, but that isn’t always enough. The WiFi signal can still be weak, and some local students lack a proper place to do their school work. Isolation has also been a challenge for many children. “This bus brings us a step closer to leveling the playing field,” he said. “The pandemic has exposed many inequities faced by students throughout New York, and Liberty is no exception. I know our students will benefit greatly, and I thank everyone who helped to make it happen.”

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