New Transportation Technology to Help Yelm Schools Bus Drivers

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Starting this fall, Yelm Community Schools bus drivers will pick up keys and tablets instead of keys and maps at the beginning of their shifts, thanks to new hardware purchase by the district’s transportation department. 

Yelm Community Schools Transportation Director Dawn Avery announced at a recent school board meeting the district’s intent to eventually outfit their fleet with over 70 portable tablets that will modernize the way drivers perform their duties. 

“We’re very excited. Even the school board is very excited about this,” Avery said. 

In addition to performing basic navigation functions, the 9-inch Tyler Drive tablets will also allow drivers the ability to take inventory of students they pickup and drop off, manage their daily routes, communicate with the school district and look up student route information. 

The expectation is that this new hardware will allow the district to support safe transportation of its students. Transportation department officials say this new piece of technology is a game changer for the school district. 

“Driving with run directions is difficult, and we don’t want to have distracted drivers,” said Assistant Director Greg Wilson. “This is going to be huge for us.”

The school district currently has 10 tablets and is in the process of ordering another 60. Avery said the district is currently on a waiting list for the devices, so they may not receive all of them by fall. The tablets cost under $1,000 each, Avery said. 

The process of implementing these tablets has been three years in the making, Avery said. The district originally purchased them with the intent to use them only for substitute drivers. 

Since then, they’ve acknowledged the need district-wide for a better accounting system. In addition to basic student info, the tablet also displays a student’s assigned bus number. 

Having this information available at the fingertips of drivers can be useful, Avery said. 

“Especially at the beginning of the year, because then students say, ‘What bus am I on?’” she said. 

The only student information available to bus drivers will be their photo, name, bus stop location and school. This information is secured, Avery said. In addition to securely turning them in after each shift, the tablets and software will also be locked behind a unique user PIN. 

In the future, the district is looking at possibly installing RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags in students’ ASB cards to automatically ring them in every time they step inside a school bus, Avery said. 

They’re also looking into linking Tyler Drive tablet locations with Skyward school management software so that parents can track their children on their way home. 

Wilson said the new Tyler Drive tablets will also help bus drivers with out-of-district travel. 

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