From School BUSRide Magazine / October 16, 2023
Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District (Los Fresnos CISD), TX is located about 20 minutes from the Mexican border, covering nearly 487 square miles and about 10,700 students. As a heavily rural area spread over a vast region of South Texas, the Los Fresnos transportation department is faced with transporting students over long routes and dark roads, often in cold and rainy weather conditions.
“The biggest challenge that we see is how long the routes are,” said Suzanne Ramirez, transportation director at Los Fresnos. “Because our routes are so rural, there are no sidewalks. We are going from house to house, with some homes over half a mile out from any other houses, and we don’t want our children standing outside in the dark for 30 or 45 minutes waiting for a bus.”
Ramirez came on as Los Fresnos transportation director nearly 14 years ago and, along with colleague and supervisor Leo Rojas, has been focused on finding an effective solution to safely transporting their students.
“Our biggest priority is the safety of our students,” Ramirez said. “The parents being able to get that information at six o’clock in the morning and being able to see that bus or knowing when their student is coming home, that is a big priority for us.”
Several years ago, Ramirez and Rojas began discussing potential GPS systems and student tracking application options. For both, having effective and efficient routing and tracking software was essential to running a successful transportation department.
“We both had the same vision technology wise,” Ramirez said. “And Transfinder seemed like the best match for what we were both looking for. It has taken us a couple of years and the pandemic slowed everything down, but now Leo is our supervisor and he’s in charge of routes and handles Transfinder technology and all the different modules that we take care of, including Stopfinder which we implemented last year.”
According to Ramirez, Rojas is not only the Los Fresnos supervisor but also her right-hand man and resident technology expert.
“The reason we chose Transfinder is because it is such an easy setup and it is so easy for the parents to use,” Rojas said. “We start picking up students at six o’clock in the morning. In some areas there are no streetlights so at that hour, we’re picking up our students in the complete dark, sometimes in 35-degree weather. Having that peace of mind that parents can track the bus and utilize that as a safety feature has been a great success.”
The Stopfinder application is an all-in-one parent engagement app designed to give parents the most accurate information about their child’s bus schedule in the palm of a hand. The application includes enhanced communications with push notifications and two-way messaging, as well as GeoAlert zones to help track the school bus is while it’s in route. Stopfinder integrates directly to the proprietary Routefinder data, ensuring real-time accurate updates are provided to parents as Routefinder is updated throughout the day.
According to Rojas, during the first week of implementation the district received over 600 requests to register for the software. Since then, the application has grown to 2,500 subscribers with more sign ups every day. Rojas notes that since implementing the software dispatch has seen a significant reduction in calls from parents.
When deciding which software was the right choice for the district, Ramirez and Rojas evaluated multiple software companies and considered their options carefully.
“We took our time in order to pick the right application,” Rojas said. “We looked at different scenarios including student safety, protocols of security and features of the system. Once we made a decision, we took our time, introducing the Stopfinder system through a pilot program for two or three months to make sure everything worked out and the parents enjoyed it.”
According to Rojas, the customization options have been a big hit with both the transportation department and parents.
“I always tell parents to customize it the way you want,” Rojas said. “For instance, you don’t always have to have the map open in order to see the bus. You can set messages and reminders to tell you when the bus is close. Every parent has different needs so being able to create your own settings is a big deal.”