By Jennifer Wohlleb
After years of strictly being a way to transport children from one place to another, school districts across Kentucky are now looking at their buses as the latest must-have learning accessories. In Adair County Schools, leaders have taken a 21-year-old bus that would have been sold as surplus and turned it into a mobile classroom that adds a nearly 200-square foot classroom to each of its schools.
It all started with an off-the-cuff remark by the gifted and talented program coordinator, who was concerned that the district’s new elementary building, like the other buildings in the district, would not have enough room to provide her program with a dedicated space. While combining two old elementary schools into one new building improved facilities and streamlined finances, there have been a few minor unforeseen consequences, Superintendent Alan Reed said.
“In doing all of that, it did crunch space. We don’t have people out in tents or anything like that, but it is tight,” he said. “In kind of a jest– our gifted and talented teacher, Pam Geisselhardt, she said, ‘Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen to GTE, I guess we’ll have to go to a bus.’ And I said, ‘That’s actually an idea.’ We were kidding around, but that’s how the idea really started.”
Learning for all
While the mobile classroom is space for students identified as gifted and talented, it has been a learning tool across the district.
“It’s been a forged partnership,” Reed said. “Students have been able to learn while that bus was being adapted. The local energy academy we do in partnership with Lindsey Wilson College, those students are in the process of doing the solar panels. The biodiesel fuel (for the bus) is made on site by our high school students from leftover cooking oil. Some of the welding was done by students at the Lake Cumberland Area Technology Center, which we share with Russell County.”
Even the district’s vendors went above and beyond to get the bus up and running.
“Bluegrass Cellular worked with us to put some state-of-the-art technology on the bus for Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) that they haven’t even put out yet,” said Adair County Transportation Director David Jones. “And Uptown Graphics ‘wrapped’ the bus and they said they’ve never done anything this big before. It took three weeks.”
A wrap is a vinyl film that is generally printed with colorful graphics, like those seen on race cars, and attached to a vehicle.
“This has been an opportunity to work with corporate entities as well as individuals connected with our school system, area colleges and universities and the technology center,” Reed said. “And the bus is an eye grabber, there’s no question about that. I would almost wager that it will appear in almost every parade in Adair County for a long time to come.”
To create the mobile classroom, the bus was gutted and sprayed with a special urethane to make it durable and easy to clean. Tables, soft chairs and shelves were installed, all of which can be moved around to fit the needs of the students using it on a particular day.
Geisselhardt said she is thrilled to have a fixed space for the gifted and talented program.
“It’s a space that will belong to those students,” she said. “We didn’t have a space of our own; we were always getting pushed around the school trying to find a space that wasn’t being used.”
She said when the program was itinerant it would take awhile to set up activities, depriving students of some of their allotted gifted and talented time.
“I know it’s going to enhance student learning because they are going to get their full time,” she said. “Now the classroom will come to them and there will be fewer distractions.”
Geisselhardt said the bus will serve 450 students across the district’s four schools.
Jones said the mobile classroom is a work in progress. A solar panel for the roof is being built by students at Lindsey Wilson to power LED lights in the shape of constellations that will be installed on the ceiling of the bus. Work will continue on the bus interior. He estimates that when the project is done, the district will have spent between $15,000-20,000, a lot cheaper than building four classrooms.
Meanwhile, the mobile classroom is attracting a lot of attention outside the district. Jones said he receives calls every week from people wanting to see it.
“I was at the world gifted and talented conference in Louisville this summer with the bus and it was remarkable the number of people that came out and viewed it,” Jones said. “It was downtown at the Galt House.
Even the directors of the conference said that was probably the No. 1 attraction there. We had people from China, Australia, they were there looking at that bus and it was amazing the response they gave us to that bus. They were thrilled that you could even do something like that.”
Ironically, about the only thing the bus can’t do now is transport children.