FORTVILLE — Maria Greer eyed the weather a few times this winter and opted to drive her daughter to school rather than have the 12-year-old take the bus.
With temperatures frequently lingering below zero — and the bus arrival varying somewhat day to day — the Mt. Vernon mom didn’t want her daughter braving the elements any longer than necessary.
Now, new technology has taken the guesswork out of the morning routine.
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Mt. Vernon is piloting a new mobile app that allows parents to track their child’s bus in real time as it makes its way along the route, cutting back on the time students spend standing out in the cold should the driver run a bit behind and helping parents keep on schedule.
The school district recently launched the Don’t Miss the Bus! application, a mobile program created by fleet management company Mobil Trackr. Mt. Vernon is the first school corporation to use the app, said Derek Shelton, director of operations.
Parents can download the free app to their smartphone or tablet through the App Store or Google Play. Mobil Trackr recently launched the app, with Mt. Vernon testing the product.
Some glitches are still being worked out, but overall the district is happy with the tool, said communications director Maria Bond.
Once they have downloaded the app, parents enter their student’s school ID number and their address. From there, they can pick multiple buses to track if they have more than one student attending school in the district.
The feature allows parents to track the bus’s location and set a boundary for push notifications. Once the bus enters the boundary, Mom or Dad will get an alert on their phone or tablet that the bus is nearby.
Mt. Vernon is the first corporation in the county to offer such an app, but Southern Hancock is considering one of its own, communications director Wes Anderson said.
Each of the districts has its own way of alerting parents of bus delays, but Mt. Vernon’s app allows them to track their students’ ride in real time. The district has spent much of the past school year developing the app, Bond said.
GPS tracking systems were installed in each of the district’s 40 buses as part of the app’s rollout. Dwayne Jones, the district’s assistant transportation director, likened the systems installed on the buses to the location services smartphones feature.
The tech company says the app has a 10-second delay, and parents can check the alerts for important updates.
The new tool marks the third update the district has made to its bus fleet in the past year. Last winter, district leaders finished installing Wi-Fi on the buses and equipping them with cameras to catch drivers who go around the stop arm.
At the time, the district also wanted to launch a program that would offer convenience to parents and students, especially on days when temperatures dip dangerously low.
Sometimes buses run late, especially if the weather is bad. Using the app, parents can check whether the vehicle is running on time and send their little ones out just before it arrives, Bond said.
Greer downloaded the app when it became available and said she really likes it so far. She has two students enrolled in the district — a freshman and a sixth-grader. While her freshman catches a ride to school most days, sixth-grader Olivia still takes the bus.
In the morning, they launch the app and wait for her bus to enter their neighborhood.
Then, it’s go time. Olivia puts on her coat and shoes and heads out the door. And Greer doesn’t have to send her daughter out any earlier.
“It’s been a relief,” she said. “It’s a really useful tool.”
Amy Franklin had been going out with her 9-year-old daughter Addyson 10 minutes before the bus was supposed to arrive.
They’d had trouble before, sometimes missing it, so Franklin’s goal was to get her third-grader to the bus early.
But 10 minutes feels much longer in the cold, she said.
It’s not just parents but transportation leaders who have peace of mind using the product, Jones said.
From the transportation office, he’s able to track where every bus is. If one has problems, he knows where it’s stopped without ever having to ask the driver.
Since launching the app, the weather has been somewhat mild, Shelton said. But with snow in the forecast this week, district officials are hopeful they’ll receive positive feedback from parents, especially those with elementary students who don’t head to work until after their children go to school.
District leaders hope the app also speeds up commute times by encouraging students to be out at the bus when it arrives, Shelton said.
Each bus carries about 40 students, and if even a handful of riders are a minute late, the bus will be delayed, he said.
Download the Don’t Miss the Bus! app from the App Store on iPhone or Google Play for Android Devices.
Once you have downloaded the app, follow these steps:
– Log into your Family Access Skyward account and write down your student’s ID number. This is located on the “Student Info” tab under “Other ID.”
– Once in the app, allow the app to send you notifications when prompted. Then Click “Get Started Today” and follow steps to create your account. You will receive a text with a validation code.
– Select your child/children’s bus number(s).
– Set boundary notifications. To do so, zoom in/out to set the boundary distance first, then type in your address at top. Turn on Notifications and Scheduling. Select the days and time periods you want to be notified, and then select “Save Schedule”. Next, choose buses for that boundary notification and select “Save Boundary.”
– Email email@example.com or call 317-457-8110 for help.