Driving change with Rolling Study Halls

Editor’s note: It’s National School Bus Safety Week and we’re celebrating by telling the story of two incredible bus drivers from Talladega County, Alabama who participate in Rolling Study Halls. This program powers their buses—along with others across the U.S.—with Wi-Fi, devices and onboard educators to help thousands of students reclaim 1.5 million learning hours. As part of our Grow with Google initiative to help provide more Americans with access to the tools and skills they need, we expanded the program across the country this school year. Dr. Suzanne Lacey, Superintendent from Talladega County, authors today’s post to share the impact this program is having in her community.

Talladega County is home to more than 7,000 students across 17 schools. The majority of our students spend a sizeable part of their day on a bus getting to and from school. In our rural county, many students also face limited access to the internet—and it’s not just an economic issue. In a lot of places where our students live, there simply isn’t access available. For these reasons, Rolling Study Halls has become an important part of our educational program since we became a participating district last April. Through a creative use of commute time, we’re now able to open doors for these students to opportunities they might not have had otherwise. This means our bus drivers aren’t just driving students to school, they’re also helping to drive change.

Maximizing opportunities for learning

Our transportation department is a critical part of what makes our school district run and has proudly maintained a perfect record of performance with the Alabama State Department of Education for over 37 years. Kim Gaither, who drives a Rolling Study Halls bus for Munford Elementary and High School, has said the program dramatically improves her long bus route, which is now quieter due to better student behavior. The best part of all: while Kim is focusing on the road, the kids get to focus on getting more out of their time on the bus. 

By extending the learning day, everyone benefits. Principal Michelle Head says Stemley Road Elementary teachers have seen student confidence grow, which she and her teachers attribute to Rolling Study Halls.

Creating time to connect

One extraordinary byproduct of Rolling Study Halls is the relationship built between the onboard educator and the students. Drew Middle School teacher and onboard educator, Stuart Bently, recently shared with me the story of a former 7th grade student who struggled in class and rarely completed her work. On the bus, he is able to give this student extra attention and have conversations not just about her assignments, but also about what’s going on in her life. He is proud that this student is now completing assignments, participating in class and couldn’t wait to show him her last report card.

 Onboard educator and 2nd grade teacher Jessica Moses provides targeted warm-up activities for students on her bus each morning to get students into the right frame of mind before getting to school. Teachers at her school relish the rare opportunity to have a positive impact on students’ learning attitudes before they even walk through their classroom door. We all know how much your morning commute can set the tone for your day, and we think one of the best parts of this program is how it helps students start the day with their best foot forward.

Inspiring unlikely mentors

Rachel Betts, Munford Elementary teacher and onboard educator, shared with me how one of her “too cool for school” 5th graders was reluctant at first about doing his homework on the bus. But then one afternoon, he volunteered to help his Kindergartener cousin on her reading. He was sounding out letters, using syllabication and modeling fluency like she had never seen him do in class! She was in awe at his level of engagement and willingness to collaborate. 

Parents, teachers and bus drivers are eager to see how the program will continue to positively impact our students. As we measure its success, we’ll also investigate methods for expansion. Talladega County Schools always looks for opportunities to maximize learning for our students. Together with Google, we are making a difference for them—and we couldn’t do that without our bus drivers who are behind the wheel, making this whole thing run.

Driving change with Rolling Study Halls