Story captured by Technology Design Coach, Emily Smith-Buster
Lately, Austin ISD has been receiving a lot of positive press about our super cool buses retrofitted with WiFi. The technology behind this initiative is no small feat. No wonder the public is in awe! But what good is a WiFi bus if it sits in the bus barn? Today, I had the chance to sit down — through the phone, of course — with one of the masked superheroes who makes sure these high-tech buses get from point A to point B. Move over Ms. Frizzle, Ms. Hudson is taking the wheel!
Rae Hudson has been a loyal Austin ISD bus driver since 2015. When asked about her job, her joyful tone said it all. “I’m a geek when it comes to my job. I love my job.” She doubled down, “I love — love — my job.” She likened her bus to an office on wheels and spoke about the energy of getting to explore the city, while building a strong rapport with each of her students.
But when campuses closed, Rae’s job drastically changed. As she talked to me about her passion for bus driving, a part of me wondered if this shift in her typical role took a toll on her spirits. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From curbside meal pickup to mobile meal distribution to Chromebook cleaning and distribution, and now as a WiFi Bus Driver, Rae has enjoyed every second of her reimagined role.
In fact, as she listed off all of the jobs she has filled over the last six weeks, she began each sentence with, “I was able to…” She attributes this joy to the feeling she gets when she sees how grateful students and their families are for a meal, a Chromebook, or internet access. “I feel privileged to be able to have the job that I have. That I can be relied on to be able to help people. If they call me and they say, ‘Hey, Rae! We need you next week — are you available?’ Well yeah, I’m available to come and help because in the end it’s about the students!”
The last few weeks haven’t been quite as diverse for Rae. Her primary role now is driving the WiFi bus to one of the many designated areas across Austin. From 8 AM to 2 PM each day, Rae sits alone on her bus while students access the internet it provides. She’s even on the hunt for the optimum parking spot. “I like to park my bus where there’s a picnic table or there are benches in case people need to walk up. Yesterday I parked at the playground in case someone needed to access it that way.” A WiFi bus is a terrific idea, but it takes humans like Ms. Hudson and her fellow transportation superheroes to bring that idea into the world where people need it.
When asked if there were any challenging logistics of this role, I was surprised to find out that finding a bathroom was at the top of Rae’s list. Not what I expected to hear, but not surprising when you’re isolated on a bus for six straight hours! Rae says that finding a building that’s still open with a parking lot able to accommodate a bus has caused some stress (sadly, her colleague was recently turned away from a nearby gas station). But her network of fellow bus drivers and her transportation Supervisors keep a list of establishments that welcome the hard-working bus drivers at the many WiFi locations scattered across the city. This list is especially important because Austin ISD Transportation, led by Kris Hafezizadeh and his team of terminal supervisors, are constantly working alongside the community to adjust and add new Wifi Bus locations. They regularly look at feedback, scour potential sites in-person, and offer quick turnarounds for communities needing WiFi access. Rae had a lot of amazing things to say about her Supervisors. It’s obvious why: they are a collective team of superheroes.
No one could have predicted that Rae would go from busing children to busing WiFi in the course of six weeks. But to Rae, it’s all for the same cause. “We are here. We’re the behind-the-scenes people and we’re doing as much as we can for our students in the situation that we are in. It’s all about the students.”
That, in a nutshell, is what being an Austin ISD team member is all about. Thank you, Rae, and the countless other transportation heroes who are tirelessly working for our students. The Technology Design Team sees you, we are amazed by you, and we are proud to call you colleagues.
Update: If you would like to listen to the full interview with Rae, we have posted it on the
Connect Design Learn Podcast page.