What if, instead of buses bringing children to school, they brought the school to the children?
In Adams County, Colorado, Rany Elissa and Alexa Garrido are doing just that. They founded Right On Learning in 2010, to provide tutoring and after-school programs to kids via a converted bus.
Before launching the bus, Right on Learning worked with GED programs, writing centers and math centers, as well as provided tutoring for homeless and foster children. While Elissa and Garrido worked with many Colorado school districts to provide programming, they noticed major gaps created by a lack of transportation options.
Over the last year, the duo poured $200,000 into renovating a model-year 2007, 19-passenger Sparktrend shuttle bus into a classroom. While the bus runs on a diesel engine, the amenities are powered by solar-panel-charged batteries. While parked, the classroom holds 8-10 students.
“This makes it more convenient for families that may have one car, or they both work. … This gives access to our preschool program while we’re in the neighborhoods,” Garrido said. No matter where students are, the school bus can come to them.
With an official state preschool license, the Right On Learning Bus uses Creative Curriculum and maintains a 4:1 student-teacher ratio. Sessions run 2.5 hours in each location, and the duo is looking to expand their roster.
As a former teacher with 16 years in education, Garrido said she has her heart set on achieving long-term education goals, “supporting families and kids as they grow into … amazing students.”
“Part of what we were seeing as we were working with kids was that there were all kinds of gaps. Part of what the gaps were looking like might have really stemmed from getting to the foundational skills,” Garrido said. She thought the best approach would be to start from the ground up, “trying to build supports in place not only for the children but for the families in general.”
Bringing the school to the neighborhood also helps generate discussions about preschool education. Plus, the flexible nature of the school can be adjusted to meet the needs of the community.
“What we’ve seen, a lot of these kids come in and they don’t know how to socially interact with others. They may be a single child or they may be not sharing, not sitting, not listening, so we work with behavioral skills and social skills,” Elissa said. “We also get them to think (and) incorporate purposeful play.”
While Right On Learning is the newest classroom on the road, Colorado began piloting portable preschools in 2012.
Founded in Aspen, the state approved the Preschool on Wheels program in May 2015. It serves an estimated 120 students annually between the towns of New Castle, Silt and Rifle, with two Blue Bird school buses nicknamed “Gus the Bus” and “Sunshine.” Preschools on Wheels serves students ages 3-5.