A pilot program that has transformed school buses into mobile virtual classrooms in one Arkansas school district is worth expanding across the state. The Aspirnaut Initiative, launched in April 2007 in the Sheridan School District, equips students with laptop computers and iPods and allows them to take online math and science courses while traveling to and from school.
The program seeks to address the growing need for people entering the work force with knowledge of the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math. A 2007 study evaluating the academic proficiency of 15-year-olds from 30 countries ranked the U.S. 21st in science and 25th in math. According to the estimation, around $2 million in the first year and $1.5 million in each of the second and third years, the program could be expanded at the rate of 2,000 students per year. The money would be divided equally between Arkansas' four congressional districts. To date, students in the pilot program have completed 14 semesters of study in addition to their regular course load. The students are given headphones which help them tune out noise from other students on the bus who are not in the program. The non-participating students are offered iPods to give them something to occupy their time quietly.