By Mike Marsee
It took three years to bring two programs together inside one bus, and now things are about to get rolling.
The bus that will bring the services of the Barren County school district’s summer meals and summer reading programs hits the road this week. The mobile facility will carry both education and nutrition to students throughout Barren County on two daily routes that take it to schools, the local YMCA and residential areas that Nutrition Services Director CheyAnne Fant said have a majority of children who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals.
Students at the Barren County Area Technology Center did some of the work to get the bus ready for its new role with the combined program, known as #BCReadsandFeeds, as did students in Barren County Middle School’s 21st Century after-school program.
“It really has taken probably three years to make this dream come true,” Fant said. “We’re not fully where we want to be, but we’re making it happen.”
The bus will feature three restaurant-style booths for children who wish to eat or read on the bus. There are at least 1,000 books available thanks to a donation from the district’s family resource center, as well about 100 pieces of sports and play equipment, such as jump ropes and beach balls, that promote physical activity.
There will be plenty of food on board as well. The nutrition program served more than 33,000 meals last summer, and Fant said she thinks they will reach even more children this year in a district with a free and reduced-price meal rate of greater than 70 percent.
“I’m hoping the bus will help us reach a larger community,” she said.
Getting the bus ready for the road took the collective effort of several groups, including students at the Barren County ATC and Barren County Middle School and community volunteers.
“We’re trying to make use of our resources. I think school educators are professionals at that,” Barren County ATC Principal Ashley Bell said. “I think it (the bus) has turned out well.”
The ATC students first stripped the seats from the former school bus, an 18-year-old model with a much newer engine and transmission that was surplussed to the nutrition services program. The seats were sold, with the proceeds going to the ATC’s career and technical student organization.
Drafting and engineering students from the school designed a “BC” logo for the grill on the front of the bus, loosely basing it on the “VW” design used on Volkswagen microbuses. Welding students created the logo using a plasma cutter.
Students from the four districts that attend the ATC – Barren County, Glasgow Independent, Caverna Independent and Hart County – worked on the bus.
“I think it’s neat for the students to be able to see this,” Bell said. “When they do see this bus around town, they can say, ‘Hey, I helped do that.’ When they see the younger kids getting meals or getting books, that’s a sense of pride for their community. They didn’t go into it thinking that; they were probably thinking, ‘This is just something else we have to do,’ but it is a sense of pride.”
David Horseman, director of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Division of Technical Schools, said projects such as this are also a great way for students to see how their work can be relevant.
“Student engagement increases in real-world applications and provides relevance for technical, academic and essential soft skills,” Horseman said.
Fant said she’s proud that the students were able to use their skills.
“It’s so nice that our school system and the ATC has student talent that we can showcase,” Fant said. “That servant heart is one of the things that our district really looks toward for employees and students, and this is just another great way to show that.”
ATC students had hoped to install the floor after the bus came back from a body shop where it got its red-and-white paint job, but the school year ended before they could get to that task. The work was done instead by members of the First Christian Church of Glasgow, who installed the floor and sorted through the donated books over the Memorial Day weekend as a service project.
“It’s just very rewarding to see all of the volunteers and how the community has kind of made this their own project,” Fant said. “Everyone’s just put their heart into this project, which has been kind of overwhelming.”
The bus replaces two vans that were being used by the summer program last year, and Fant said she thinks it will make the program more visible in the community.
“And I think it will be exciting for the students, because typically when you get on a bus you’re headed somewhere,” she said.
But Barren County isn’t the only school district that has rolled out some repurposed wheels to serve its students’ summer needs. Fant said she heard about the idea three years ago when she saw the Jefferson County schools’ first Bus Stop Café, a bus repurposed as a dine-in cafeteria that delivers summer meals. The district has launched a fleet of five such buses serving 92 schools in the district.
“The very first summer after I became nutrition director, I went to a training and saw that bus. I turned around to my colleagues and said, ‘We’re going to do that,’” Fant said.
The Marion County school district debuted its Dream Bus this spring and will use it as a traveling learning lab throughout the school year and to deliver meals during the summer. Marion County’s bus is the result of a student-based project in which students from tech design, carpentry, industrial maintenance and Project Lead the Way engineering classes at Marion County Area Technology Center collaborated on its design.
“The students at the Marion County ATC performed a large portion of the work on our district’s mobile learning lab,” Marion County ATC Principal Brandon Bardin said. “It was a great learning experience for the students who had a hand in building it, and it is scheduled to be in every community in the county throughout the summer.”
And Daviess County schools have introduced the Exploration Station, which is equipped to help students with reading, mathematics and science during the summer and will be used for after-school activities during the school year.
MORE INFO …
Ashley Bell firstname.lastname@example.org
CheyAnne Fant email@example.com