Arlette Guerrero, 13, and other students at Milagro Middle School demonstrate a new WiFi system on school buses, after a ribbon cutting event for Google’s Rolling Study Hall project. (Photo Credit: Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
SANTA FE – Santa Fe Public Schools is one of 16 school districts in 12 states being added to Google’s Rolling Study Hall program, an initiative that allows students with long commutes to gain access to the internet so they can do homework on the bus to and from school under the oversight of an on-board tutor.
“We want to do everything we can to make that bus ride really productive for you,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., told a group of several dozen students gathered in Santa Fe’s Milagro Middle School gymnasium just before boarding a bus for a demonstration.
Udall said the purpose of the program is to close the “digital divide,” or “homework gap,” between students that don’t have access to the internet at home.
According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, low-income homes with children ages 6 to 17 are four times more likely to not have access to broadband at home than middle- or upper-income families. There’s also a divide of more than 10 percentage points between black and Hispanic households compared to white households, according to the research.
Udall said he became an advocate for the program after hearing from a student-athlete in Las Cruces who, because of his practice and game schedule, was doing his homework from a school parking lot where he could tap into the internet.
The program is being funded with an $85,000 grant that will pay for the installation of mobile Wi-Fi routers and other equipment on six buses, as well as pay stipends for teachers willing to ride the bus and serve as tutors.
From left, Sen. Tom Udall, along with Omar Enriquez, Alejandro Acosta, Javier Fernandez and other students at Santa Fe’s Milagro Middle School, work on an animation during a short coding workshop presented by representatives of Google’s Rolling Study Hall. (Photo Credit: Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Neal Weaver, director of digital learning for SFPS, said the buses were selected based on the number of students aboard and the duration of the bus route.
“One of the biggest keys is the time spent with the curriculum and being able to extend the classroom,” he said, adding that the program could be expanded in Santa Fe if it proves successful.
Google says it has already proven to be successful in pilot programs in North and South Carolina, where promising gains in reading and math proficiency were recorded.
Alex Sanchez, Google’s project manager for Rolling Study Hall, said some students spend more than two hours per day on a school bus. The Rolling Study Hall can be “a real game changer” for them, he said.
Santa Fe Public Schools may have an inside track for being selected by Google. Tom Ryan, the district’s chief information and strategy officer, is chairman of the board for Consortium for School Networking, a national nonprofit group that is partnering with Google and Kajeet, a mobile broadband provider, on the Rolling Study Hall program. Ryan said the technology provides for another opportunity for creating a high-quality learning environment.
When we started Kajeet in 2003, we wanted kids to be agile with technology, to be empowered and safe, and we wanted to help them respond with confidence to what's happening in their world. Not incidentally, we want parents, educators and guardians to be involved too. Being part of the mobile world is not just fun, it’s a shared responsibility.