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Articles: Transportation

Walking to school combats obesity and increases student concentration, according to a Danish study released last year. Children who walk or bike to school performed better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, than those who traveled by car or bus, the researchers found.

Aside from new transportation routes, Solanco Public Schools also offers kids the option to just stay home altogether.

The Solanco Virtual Academy (SVA) is a district-operated cyber school that offers an alternative to standard instruction by teaching K12 kids at home through computers, with monitoring and evaluation performed by district teachers. “Some children just don’t perform as well in the classroom,” says Keith Kaufman, Solanco’s director of community relations, so Pennsylvania allows students the option to attend school online.

Public and private students living in the Solanco Public Schools district are picked up and dropped off daily at one of five hubs Solanco uses to bus students.

Solanco Public Schools—short for “Southern Lancaster County”—is the fifth largest district in Pennsylvania, spanning 181 square miles. And it means long bus rides for students: 50 minutes for elementary students and an hour or more for middle and high school.

Johnson (top row, center) with students in a welding certification intensive at Kodiak High School.

People hear “rural” and think endless woods and farmland connected by interstates and picturesque windy roads. But in parts of Alaska, rural can mean having to hop on a ferry or a small plane to get from place to place. Eight of the Kodiak Island Borough School District’s 14 schools are on small islands. Only 156 students attend these eight schools; the rest of the district’s students attend schools on Kodiak Island proper. The 21 teachers in these rural schools are required by the district to teach all subjects, making them akin to the teachers in one-room schoolhouses years ago.

Thomas Built Buses, Kansas City (Kan.)

Problem

In the 14 years that George Taylor has been with Kansas City (Kan.) Public Schools as the director of transportation, he has seen his fleet of 160 buses age and tire. As maintenance costs began to increase on the 12-18-year-old buses, along with diesel fuel prices escalating, the district was in need of new buses. “Funding has been decreasing over the last five years,” says Taylor. “Maintenance expenses were going up because we had buses that were 12 to 18 years old.”

Persistent tardiness is rampant in Boston Public Schools as a result of miscalculated bus routes, according to the Boston School Bus Drivers Union. According to a grievance filed against school bus provider First Student, Inc. by the union obtained by the Boston Globe, the drivers felt a new GPS computer software system installed failed to account for the heavy traffic in the city and generated routes that are poorly timed.

To keep children safe and prevent school bus accidents, school districts across the nation are cracking down on drivers who pass school buses when children are getting on or off.

The Sand Springs (Okla.) School District just added multiple cameras to its fleet of buses, including on the exterior school-bus stop sign arm. “Cars cannot see students loading and unloading from the bus, and students cannot see an oncoming car. There is no way the driver could stop before hitting the child,” according to Sean Parker, assistant director of transportation for the district.

This year, parents in need of information on bus routes before the first week of school in Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District turned to a new user-friendly program using Google maps developed by Jerry Nyman, the district’s information technology director. Before the Find My Bus Stop application was developed in the fall of 2009, parents had to call the district to find out which bus their child should take, unlike other districts that notify families.

Closure of an interstate highway means many things: traffic backups, lengthy detours, confusing back roads, and a constant headache for the frequent traveler. But what does it mean for school buses when the dependable flow of interstate traffic is the lifeblood for an entire transportation operation?

That's exactly the question the St. Louis-based Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) had to address when the Missouri Department of Transportation announced the two-step closure of a 10-mile stretch of I-64, five miles per year from January 2008 through December 2009.

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The bus driver overheard a middle school student say as he was walking off the bus at the end of the day, "I am going to get several of you tomorrow on the bus and blow you away for making fun of me."

Text messaging while driving in Lee County (Fla.) Public Schools is prohibited. It is the first district in Florida— and possibly the nation—to keep its policies caught up with the technology.

In March 2010, the Lee County Board of Education amended the district vehicle policy to prohibit employees from text messaging while driving a district vehicle or while driving a personally-owned vehicle on district business. The district has 12,000 employees and a fleet of over 650 school buses.

The very tragic death of a Connecticut teenager involved in a school bus accident has reopened debate about the merits of seat belts on school buses. On January 9, Vikas Parikh, a 16-year-old student at Rocky Hill (Conn.) High School, died from a traumatic head injury when his school bus struck another car and plunged down an embankment.

Proving once again to be a leader in school technology, the Vail (Ariz.) School District is now providing wireless access in school buses. In early December 2009, the district installed its first wireless router attached to a cellular 3G network in one high school bus. Although the district paid for this out of pocket, officials hope to obtain a $15,000 Qwest Foundation Grant from Qwest Communications to fund routers in the 20 buses that run the longest high school routes.

Education funding cuts in this tough economy mean current students may once again tell their grandchildren, “When I was your age, I had to walk to school uphill—both ways.”

For example, a budget shortfall in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas means that students living inside a two-mile radius of its 81 campuses will walk or carpool to school.

“We’re not cutting fat,” says Kelli Duram, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District assistant superintendent for communication. “We’re cutting into bone marrow now.”

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