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Tech-Equipped School Bus Creates 'Rolling Readers'

Since Monday, Jackie Washington Miller's students have been listening to the audio book Nimona on their ride to Cameron Elementary school.

Washington Miller, a senior school bus driver with the district says the kids have been quiet, intensely listening to the book.

Jackie Washington Miller

"And as soon as they see me they said, 'Miss Jackie, Miss Jackie. Are we going to listen to the book today?" says Washington Miller explaining the kids check to make sure they start the place they left off. 

BiblioTech outfitted seven SAISD buses with wireless routers and internet infrastructure as part of their "Rolling Readers" program. The technology gives students access to the internet through the district's content filters, and access to the digital library's thousands of books. The seven will rotate every two months to routes for multiple schools. 

Cameron Elementary is on the city's eastside near the AT&T Center, in a historically impoverished area. The district says the school has a rate of 94.78 percent of students deemed economically disadvantaged, above the district average of 92 percent. 

BiblioTech's Laura Cole says Cameron students are exactly the ones they want to be helping as part of their mission to address the city's digital divide, and help students access an internet that is increasingly intertwined with all aspects of life.

"They may have a phone, they may have a tablet, but sometimes they don't actually have the connectivity to make that work for them," Cole says. 

Monica Guillory is the principal and she says her students will benefit from the two months they have access to the bus by teaching them reading is recreational.

"We have some students who maybe aren't so motivated to read," says Guillory "And this will be an amazing way to bridge the gap between school and home, so from the moment they get on the bus they will be exposed to literacy and literature," she says.

SAISD's umbrella goal is increased literacy, says Nathan Graf, who runs the district's transportation program. Graf says one metric they will be using is BiblioTech.

"So the more kids we can get signed up with library cards, that's how we'll determine if the program is successful," he says. 

Graf suggested Rolling Readers, and wants it to grow to 20 buses this year. At $1000 cost per bus, he said the district has to find the money first. He hopes that companies, especially tech companies, will pitch in.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org