S.C. School District Uses Soothing Music to Calm Students on Buses

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A pilot program at Horry County School District is enabling the transportation department to equip some of its yellow buses with digital audio machines to play soothing music to help keep students calm and reduce any misbehavior on the bus.    

The digital audio machines — the same kind of system used on many rides and trolleys at Disneyworld and other theme parks — were installed on 10 buses that have routes with the most discipline referrals. Aside from calming music, the machines also announce stops as well as safety tips during runs.  

The district is considered the first in the country to use “theme park” technology with the goal to improve safety and student behavior on routes.

“We wanted to reduce some discipline issues on school buses,” said James Wright, director of transportation for Horry County Schools. He got the idea from his son, a high school senior, who one time recalled the messages he saw on a theme park monorail.

The AM4-EA digital audio machines by Orlando, Fla.-based Alcorn McBride, which modified the equipment for student transportation, provides the department with a bus’ latitude, longitude, speed, heading, time, date and more, and uses some of that data to trigger audio files to be played at certain locations along a route.

“Announcements tell passengers when they’re approaching railroad tracks and when their stops are coming up. We can alert drivers to make sure their youngest kids have someone to pick them up,” Wright said. “It’s a major benefit from a safety standpoint.”

The system comes with a built-in amplifier to drive the speakers on the bus, along with Ethernet so content can be updated via the network. The bus’ telemetry information is accessed through a GPS kit, which includes a GPS receiver and the cables needed to interface it to the product. The system also can give point-by-point directions to substitute drivers who are unfamiliar with a route. Once a unit is installed, discs are changed to alter messages or music.

If the pilot program goes well, usage could be expanded across the transportation fleet and include programming in other languages and Wi-Fi capabilities that enable messages to change during a route should emergencies arise. For now, Wright said Alcorn McBride is working on time-stamping the information for morning and afternoon shifts.

Alcon McBride is a manufacturer of show control, audio and video equipment for the themed entertainment industry, and a rapidly growing provider of audio and video systems for retail environments and transportation applications. 

Scott Harkless, the company’s senior sales engineer, said because digital audio machines have been deployed in various transportation-related services such as shuttles, parking trams, and even some train and aircraft applications, the concept of adapting the technology for school buses wasn’t too much of a stretch.