Howe Public Schools is located in Howe, Okla., and serves over 600 students across two buildings.
Being a rural district, students often would spend a long time on the bus getting to school. In the winter when the temperatures dropped, they could often be waiting outside for extended periods of time without knowing when the bus was coming.
The district created a solution using GPS coordinates from the bus, Webex Teams, and InformaCast to alert parents when the bus was approaching so students did not need to wait outside in inclement weather.
Better Data, Enhanced Notifications
In Howe, Okla., the local school district was facing a challenge. Because many students live in rural parts of the community, they often endure long bus rides before getting to school. That area of the country is susceptible to all kinds of severe weather, from thunderstorms to extreme heat and cold. Since students in rural areas often need to walk long distances to their bus stops, they could be out in inclement weather for long periods of time without having a good idea of when the bus would arrive. If students miss the bus, they might also miss an entire day of school because their parents may have already left for work or would have no way of transporting them.
The district needed a way to help parents and students by alerting them when the bus was approaching. Dr. Lance Ford, an educational technology advocate for Cisco who works within Howe Public Schools, turned to InformaCast from Singlewire Software, Cisco, and Davra to develop a solution.
Keeping Families Informed
“Our bus routes can take as long as one and a half hours to complete,” said Ford. “We have kids getting on the bus a little after 6 a.m. and not arriving at our campus until 7:45 a.m.”
With kids already on the bus for such long periods of time, the district didn’t want to extend that time by having students wait at their stops without any idea of when the bus was coming. The district was already collecting data including GPS coordinates from its buses using RuBAN from Davra. Using that data, Ford set up areas of interest along the route near each bus stop. When the bus enters an area that was within five minutes of the bus stop it triggers a notification that is sent to Webex Teams. Teams then initiates InformaCast which sends an SMS text to the parent letting them know the bus is approaching the stop and will be there in roughly five minutes.
“The bus drivers can usually pick up students within plus or minus five minutes of their designed pick-up time,” said Ford, “but when there’s bad weather, we don’t want students waiting outside for ten minutes or longer.”
In addition to collecting GPS data, the district collects data from buses such as engine speed, engine temperature, and other information that may impact how the bus functions. That way, if anything goes wrong with the operation of the bus, Ford and his team are notified and can provide assistance.
“The security team is very involved in this process,” said Ford. “With InformaCast, they are getting all of the updates that the parents are receiving so they know pickup is running smoothly.”
Ford is also looking for ways the district can provide additional information for parents and the bus drivers.
“Eventually, we want to be able to send robocalls in addition to text messages, and give the parents the ability to respond once the message is received,” said Ford. “However, we need to figure out a way we can safely deliver the information to the bus drivers and allow them to adjust their routes without drastically altering the pick-up schedule.”
When parents receive a text message to notify them the bus is approaching, they would be able to either confirm the student will be ready or that the student is staying home or not utilizing the bus that day.
Mass Notifications Beyond Bus Routes
In addition to using it for bus routes, the district is using InformaCast to help enhance safety and communication in school buildings. The district has two schools, a gymnasium, and a cafeteria. A major roadway runs between the buildings, so having the tools in place that can share information helps keep everyone informed.
School bell schedules are managed through InformaCast, and integration with Webex Teams and Meraki cameras helps provide notifications with links to camera feeds to monitor ongoing situations.
According to Ford, “InformaCast is the backbone that helps us run everything else.”
Visit our Schools & Districts page for more information about how InformaCast can help enhance safety and communication on your campus.