This past week, Smart Tags were given to all students in the Pea Ridge School District. Some were attached to lanyards, some were attached to the students' backpacks.
Those smart tags are for communication and safety, according to Kevin Ramey, assistant superintendent, who said, "It's for our kids to make sure students are getting on the correct bus and that we're sending them home to the correct location."
Ramey said the smart tags do not have a GPS tracker in them and students are not "tracked." The tags are scanned when a student gets on and off a bus.
Bus drivers were given the tablets with which the smart tags work earlier this year and the tags were passed out to begin preparing students, staff and students' parents for the process, Ramey said, explaining that once the system is in place, parents will be given the opportunity to "opt in" to the system for notifications.
"The bus drivers have been using the software since January, loading the names manually," Ramey said. "Eventually we will send notifications to parents who opt in and they can know when their child gets on and off the bus."
Ramey said the census data from the school shows that most parents of students work in either Bentonville or Rogers so their drive time back home is about 20 minutes.
"They can be at work and know that their child got off the bus," he said.
The software program provides information, addresses and maps (directions to addresses) and how many students are supposed to get on or off at a stop. It is designed to not display when the bus is traveling so as not to be a distraction to the driver.
"For parents, one advantage is that during the winter months or bad weather, like with snow or rain, they can be notified when the bus is a few minutes away to pick up the student," he said.
Eventually, Ramey said he hopes to be able to connect the smart tag to the scanners in the cafeteria to allow students to scan in for lunch, but he said "we're not ready for that now."
"We did them for every student in the building," Ramey said, explaining that the scanners will be used "eventually for field trips and we want to know who is on what buses ... we can do it on athletic trips."
He said the district put information on Facebook and on the school district's website. He said interested persons can click on transportation and then watch a video and other links for information.
"It's a new system, so there's going to be challenges. We're starting slowly and asking for everybody's patience. We will get it lined out," he said. "We just started scanning this week."
Ramey advised parents to be sure the school district has the most current information for contacting them -- phone numbers and addresses.
"We sync twice a day," Ramey said, about the district's contact information. "The more information we can put at the fingertips of the drivers, the better it is for the students. We want to make sure students are getting on and off at the correct location."
He said information can be manually loaded by school staff and bus drivers.
"There are many new homes being added so we may have to add or change routes for next year," Ramey said.
Ramey said about half the student population -- from 1,200 to 1,300 students -- are regular bus rider.
"It just makes sense to give the tags to everybody and if they don't use it, at least they've got it. We have lots of field trips at the end of the year and sometimes there are substitute bus drivers. This way, we can know whose going where and doing what and which kids are on which bus," he said.