Public-private partnership transforms school bus into mobile learning lab

Melanie Agnew, an instructional coach at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, stands next to the Verizon Wireless Mobile Learning Lab.

With nearly 500,000 school buses transporting students daily in this country, one in particular stands out at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C. Instead of the familiar vehicle emblazoned with bright yellow paint, this one is wrapped in bold graphics showing enthusiastic students using wireless devices to reflect what actually goes on inside this unique vehicle, known as the Mobile Learning Lab. It’s a retrofitted school bus equipped with its own generator, air conditioner, wireless 4G LTE internet connectivity, on-board tutors, and individual workstations with tablet computers and docking stations.

Eager students like Carl Harper, who just graduated from Calvin Coolidge High School, have been piling into what we’ve come to call our very own “Magic School Bus” when it pulls up every Wednesday in the school’s parking lot. Harper and about 70 of his classmates worked for the better part of the school year on board the vehicle alongside tutors from nearby Howard University on essays for their college applications and scholarship nominations.

Made possible through a partnership with Verizon Wireless and Samsung, this bus brings cutting-edge wireless technology to underserved communities in D.C. and Maryland to help students become 21st century learners. As educators, we strive to provide our students with the best educational opportunities, but we don’t always have much-needed resources. The idea of providing our students with consistent access to the latest tablets running on 4G LTE technology, and the software and apps that go along with these, is very exciting for us and for them.

Through this initiative, students receive individualized help with writing admissions essays and scholarship applications that will distinguish them within the increasingly competitive field of the college-bound. These tablets are key to helping students navigate the challenging college application process. Rather than having a stack of paper documents that can be lost or misplaced easily, all drafts and the information used to create them are stored digitally on the tablet, accessed remotely and quickly, and eMailed for review by the tutors for immediate feedback, eliminating the burden of a traditional and, at times, outdated paper method.

Howard University tutors pair up with students on board the bus each week, using 4G LTE tablets to help the students research and review examples of good college essays online, brainstorm ideas for their personal statements, and draft their own documents electronically. Working with the tutors has really instilled a culture that encourages all of our students to believe that college is attainable. The tutors are excellent role models and mentors for our students, helping them become less anxious about college and more comfortable with goal setting. It’s very empowering for our kids to develop relationships with real-life college students so they can envision themselves in that role.

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