BEEBE, Ark. – You’ve heard the wheels on the bus go round and round. In Beebe add another verse because when you hop in, you can log on. It is thanks to the initiative of two student-athletes that the district has Wi-Fi on every bus.
In Beebe School District most bus routes take an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. For sophomore Jordyn Lefford and junior Ethan Waters ride time can take six hours out of their day when they have a long away game.
“A lot of time going back and forth. I got to stay up really late to do my homework,” Lefford shared.
“Very exhausted the next day”, Waters added.
The duo decided there must be a better way, looked up “Wi-fi on school busses.”, and contacted the company Premier Wireless Business Technology Solutions through webchat. Lea Bogle replied.
“This went on with a question, an answer. A question, an answer for about five or six weeks. Finally, I said can we just set a meeting and talk about a solution,” Bogle said.
They set a Zoom call one fateful Monday, and to Bogle’s surprise, she was not speaking to a superintendent or school administrator.
“I was shocked to see two kids on the Zoom camera,” Bogle said. “I had never before heard directly from the students being impacted.”
The call lasted about an hour. In it Bogle informed the students about the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), a Federal grant program created during the pandemic that was available to their school specifically for off-campus connectivity.
Bogle edited their recorded conversation down to two minutes and sent the discussion to Beebe School District Superintendent Dr. Chris Nail.
“We think it would benefit our district, and at some point, it would help our test scores go up because that’s more time students can be studying and getting ready for their exams,” Waters said in the video.
Soon after the district began the process to apply for a $97,000 federal grant. They were awarded it in December and installed Wi-Fi on each of its 45 busses over the Winter holiday.
“Most definitely a different world from when I started,” said Transportation Director Vaudy McAfee, impressed with the first week of the bus Wi-Fi in use.
McAfee said the router can send a signal up to 100 feet and none have dropped a signal on any route. Since the start of this semester, he’s noticed a difference in productivity but also discipline, partly because the grant also now enables a live look from the school of what’s happening inside a bus. Additionally, this system includes GPS, enabling the district to locate a bus when it is on the road.
And the students responsible got their own surprise. It just so happened that Bogle was not only the one to respond to the initial inquiry and walked them through the process, but also the President & CEO of Premier Wireless.
“I had to come to meet these kids,” she said.
On Thursday, she surprised Lefford and Waters with $5,000 scholarships. She said it is the first the company has ever awarded.
“I have been in business for 30 years. I have done amazing work with amazing people. You two stand out above all the rest,” she said to the teens. “There is no school I am more excited about having wifi on the buses than yours.”
Lefford and Waters called the scholarships a big shock.
“I was trying not to drop my jaw on camera,” Lefford said. “We actually didn’t know she was the CEO until two days ago.”
“I think we were just as shocked as she was to find out we were both ninth and tenth grades as when we found out she was the president and CEO of the company,” Waters said.
Even though the federal grant fully paid for the wifi installation, it costs $14,000 a year to operate. There is a discussion within the FCC to possibly pay for that cost for schools. Bogle said she hopes it passes so Beebe can keep its connection as long as it wants.
“I mean these kids will forever be in my heart,” Bogle concluded.