Eager to help parents understand what their kids were learning in school, teachers Brittany Harris and Colleen Ryan decided to bring school to them — with the help of a big red school bus.
“A lot of our parents don’t have cars, or the shifts they work don’t work with the schedule of time teachers are available at school, so this service allows convenience for them,” Ryan explains.
Harris bought the old bus — which she and Ryan named The Passage — from a relative last fall after struggling to connect with families in her low-income Chattanooga, Tennessee, district.
The educators stocked it with tables, chairs, books, games, and iPads, and they took it on the road.
Meetings on the bus last 30 minutes and focus on either math or reading.
One of the goals is to update parents, many of whom are unfamiliar with Common Core methods, on the new problem-solving techniques their children are using to do their homework.
Breakfast is often included — as are games, including math bingo, Trouble, and Legos.
“To hear the student talk about [how] the bus being at their house was the highlight of their weekend because they got to show their teacher their house is enlightening,” Ryan says.
Harris initially paid for the mini-school-on-wheels out of her own pocket, an experience shared by many teachers who are increasingly expected to furnish their own school supplies.
In 2015, K-12 educators spent an average of nearly $500 on furniture, cleaning supplies, poster board, and other essential items for their classrooms — not including side projects like The Passage.
The project is now funded by several grants.
“We knew we wanted to do this no matter what,” Ryan says.
Ryan credits The Passage for helping her and Harris integrate more deeply into the community where they work.
The educators have taken the bus to block parties and hosted group events, though being welcomed into their students’ homes is often the highlight of a day on the road.
“It brings a whole new perspective to a teacher,” she says.
In addition to the grants that help furnish materials for the rolling classroom, the bus receives donated books and supplies.
The mobile learning lab is already showing results.
One boy who had trouble understanding some assignments did a 180 after Ryan and Harris came knocking on his door.
“[He] was great in math but struggled in reading,” Ryan says. “With the bus, we taught him strategies of how to understand word problems even if he couldn’t read it fully, which allowed him to pass his benchmark math test.”
For some pupils, she explains, learning is about more than academics.
It’s showing up that matters.
“A simple act of just going to a house can lift the lowest of spirits of a student.”