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Google is equipping more rural school buses with Wi-Fi and Chromebooks

Google today announced an expansion of its Rolling Study Halls initiative to over 16 additional school districts, giving “thousands” of students access to Wi-Fi and Chromebooks on their buses. Google piloted the program in North Carolina and South Carolina last year and has focused its efforts on rural communities where some students have lengthy bus rides between home and the classroom each day.

Providing students with dependable Wi-Fi before and after school is a boon for those who might lack broadband internet at home, giving them two opportunities daily to complete assignments or study for exams while on the bus. Google contributes mobile Wi-Fi routers, data plans, and Chromebook devices. Each Rolling Study Hall also has an “onboard educator” who’s able to provide direct assistance.

CBS News has a good write-up on one of the earlier pilot trials in South Carolina’s rural Berkeley County, where Google just so happens to operate one of its data centers. The company says it has “awarded more than $1.9 million to local schools and nonprofits” since 2009.

Caldwell County, North Carolina — another home to one of Google’s backend operations centers — is also participating in the Rolling Study Halls program. There, Google has awarded over $4 million, and some students definitely spend a good chunk of their day on the bus:

Approximately 67 percent of the Gamewell Middle School population is assigned to one of the nine standard yellow buses. More than 400 miles are logged on the Gamewell Middle School buses each day, and throughout the district, the average bus route is 1.5 hours in the morning and in the afternoon.

That puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? I had it pretty easy as a suburban kid.

At least in North Carolina, each bus went through a six-week setup process, during which it was loaded up with Wi-Fi, devices, and cameras that the school could monitor remotely through a live feed.

The Verge has asked Google for a list of the additional districts being added to the program. Just last week, Apple introduced a new iPad and education software that it hopes will help cut into Google’s dominance of classroom devices. But programs like Rolling Study Halls show how Google is trying to establish Chromebooks as vital tools — even before students step off the bus in the morning.

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