Where's the bus?

Many families in New Albany-Plain Local School District look no further than their smartphones to find the answer.

Launched in October, the school district's Here Comes the Bus app allows parents to track their children's buses, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

The app is the latest example of ways the district is using technology to streamline processes for families, students and teachers.

Here Comes the Bus, available to users for free on Android and Apple platforms, allows users to see where the bus is on its route -- similar to ride-service apps, such as Uber and Lyft -- and determine what time to get to bus stops, he said.

"I think it's just another resource and tool that parents can use," Gallaway said.

Here Comes the Bus has had 750 downloads, Gallaway said. The app is accessible only with a student's identification, he said.

Beth Steel, a district communications coordinator and parent, said the app gives parents peace of mind.

Steel has three students in the district: Joe, 17, at New Albany High School; Avanel, 13, at New Albany Middle School; and Lilly, 9, at New Albany Primary School. Joe Steel is old enough to drive himself to school, but she uses the bus app for her two daughters, Steel said.

The app lets her set a radius for a bus stop so that when a bus enters that radius, she receives a push notification on her phone and an email, Steel said.

Avanel also uses the app so that she knows when to leave for the bus stop, she said.

Here Comes the Bus will cost the district $17,820 over five years, Gallaway said.

The district also has a general app for school information, which it launched two years ago, Gallaway said. It is called the New Albany Schools App, powered by Blackboard, and it cost the district $6,980 to develop, he said.

This year, the app was updated in connection with the district's use of Blackboard's mass-notification service, Gallaway said. Blackboard is a multiuse communications platform the district uses for its website, automated phone and text alerts, teacher communication and mobile app, he said.

The school app now shows parents bus information, as well as a student's cafeteria balance, Steel said. Parents also are able to log in to the app and customize how they receive district notifications.

"That's been a big win for parents," she said.

Anyone can download the school app, he said, but student information is restricted to those who have specific student identification.

Like the bus app, the school app is available for both Android and Apple platforms.

Since the free app's launch, it has had 9,712 downloads, Gallaway said.

At the beginning of the school year, it had only 6,000 downloads, he said.

Steel said she attributes the download increase to the customization options the app offers for notifications.

The district's recent technology initiatives extend beyond apps.

Primary school and Intermediate school students, grades 1 through 6, use biometric scanners -- basically, fingerprint scanners -- to pay for their lunches, said district food-service manager Laura Henslee.

The district implemented the technology three years ago because younger students often had difficulty remembering their five-digit Eagle ID number, which was tied to their lunch accounts, Henslee said.

Parents were able to opt out of the biometric scanning, but few did, she said.

The annual biometric-scanning agreement is $6,365, Gallaway said, and it is paid by money generated by the district's food-service department.

Additional efficiency is an advantage of the biometric scanning, but the same is true for new badges for high school and middle school students, he said.

This school year, those students were issued badges, Henslee said.

The badges have a barcode that can be scanned for building entry and lunch payments, she said.

Replacement badges are $6 for students, she said.

New technology initiatives also are affecting how students and teachers interact.

Ann Trotter, who teaches 11th-grade Advanced Placement English, has been using Schoology, a learning-management system, since the district introduced it in 2013.

Schoology serves as a central site where students and teachers can collaborate and extend learning, Trotter said. Students are able to access course materials, participate in discussion boards, create and curate their assignments and engage in self-paced lessons, she said.

Schoology's annual cost is $24,440, Gallaway said. The district has a three-year contract from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2020, he said.

Trotter said Schoology is integral to her course.

Students work at their own pace on quarterly assignments detailed on Schoology, she said.

"I'm able to monitor more closely each student's progress and offer personalized pathways for intervention or acceleration," she said.

One of the biggest benefits of the system, Trotter said, is that it's easy to use.

And the platform isn't static, either, she said. Schoology acts on client suggestions to make improvements and add new features, she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah