Some students living in rural parts of North Carolina are getting homework help during their often lengthy commutes to and from school thanks to an initiative from Google.
Called “Rolling Study Halls," a handful of standard school buses in Caldwell County, North Carolina, are now Wi-Fi enabled so that students living in regions with spotty internet service have the opportunity to use the service for longer stretches so that they complete their school work.
"I don't think any child should be left behind just because the family cannot afford the resources," said Lilyn Hester, Google's head of external affairs in the southeast U.S. region, who founded the program. "I'm excited I work for a company that embraces that as well and is working to pilot something with that in mind."
Discovering that some students in Caldwell County had over hour-long commutes to and from school after talking with education leaders there, Hester was inspired.
"Then the wheels started turning, how could we turn that into educational time?" Hester said. "What if we turn that bus ride into a classroom of sorts? And what if we put teachers on those buses to help kids with their homework on that commute?"
Consequently, Hester helped establish a partnership between Google and Caldwell County education leaders where Google outfitted 11 district school buses with Wi-Fi and set up a grant to pay for the Wi-Fi and data usage. The team also collaborated with the Education Foundation of Caldwell County — an organization that provided funding to have teachers ride the buses with students to help with homework.
So far, the program has been a success with officials reporting that test scores have gone up and fighting on these school buses has gone down. Likewise, the service is attempting to bridge the gap between students with internet access and those without it.
"We thought it would be great if we could provide these students with the means so that they too can be competitive," said Susan Bearden, a representative of school networking nonprofit CoSN.
With help from Google, the "Rolling Study Halls" program is preparing to expand to 16 additional school districts across the U.S.
"For a young person to get them excited about computer science, it excites me as well," said Hester. "These kids could create the next big thing, the next Google."