WORDS: Katelyn Disbro
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
The Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County (ELC) recently rolled out; pun intended, the newest member of its fleet! The third educational vehicle, named the Mobile Learning Lab, will run alongside the Book Bus and the STEAM Machine, adding additional resources to the ELC’s community educational initiatives.
The former Manatee County school bus was generously donated to the ELC by the School District. The two organizations have a successful and collaborative partnership and continue to work together on many projects to benefit children in the local community.
School District of Manatee County Superintendent, Cynthia Saunders, believes the partnership with ELC ensures children are on track with their education. She said: “What we can do collectively is to ensure all of our students, especially our most needy students, have the quality of education that they need on a daily basis and that our parents are able to go to work and do what they need to provide for their families. The new Mobile Learning Lab has endless possibilities.”
Always on the lookout for innovation in early education, Paul Sharff, ELC Chief Executive Officer, was intrigued by a video social media post, showing a mobile preschool in Colorado. Seeing no limits to his team’s creative abilities, Mr. Sharff and ELC staff embarked on a journey to create the first mobile learning lab in the state. Similar to the Colorado vehicle, the Mobile Learning Lab makes educational programming even more accessible by bringing it directly to the community.
He said: “We are very proud of the new Mobile Learning Lab and excited to be moving forward. There has been a tremendous amount of planning and work gone into the creation of the Mobile Learning Lab. I would personally like to thank Superintendent Saunders for donating the bus to us, and all of the funders who have helped create this amazing mobile vehicle that will enhance the educational possibilities for the children of Manatee County.”
As they dealt with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Sharff and Superintendent Saunders had a motto that “if you can’t make it to your education and come to us, we will bring it to you!” The Mobile Learning Lab will certainly make that happen in the ever-changing educational landscape.
For the bus to become a first of its kind in Florida, it went through a $50,000 transformation – becoming a classroom on wheels! Generous donors funded the project with both talent and monetary contributions. The bus was made possible by the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton’s $20,000 donation and a $6,000 donation from the Soar In 4 initiative. The colorful ceiling was designed and beautifully painted by the students of Manatee Technical College.
Not only did the ELC benefit from their work, but the students also gained job-related experience that will benefit them in their future work endeavors. The ceiling artwork features gears, clouds, and lightbulbs and meant to inspire learners to reach for the sky in both their thinking and their future ideas. The vibrant exterior wrap highlights a collection of supporters and donors to thank them for their contributions.
The exterior design was created with a vision to make the bus stand out and be a community symbol of creative thinking, educational empowerment, and collective community engagement. The bus is now furnished with air conditioning, full power, modern technology, traditional classroom tools, and bright yet calming colors – it is engaging from the moment children step aboard. The walls were custom fabricated to be both magnetic and dry erase! Teachers and students alike can capture their thinking through sketching on the walls.
There is a 60-inch TV on a swivel arm that allows for the display of educational content or past learning with a photo slideshow. Making learning visible is a strategy that will enable children to strengthen their ideas by connecting previous experiences to new concepts. Children can also take cues from seeing the work of other children, making their projects more relevant.
The bus also features an interactive touchscreen projector that readies young learners for the technology they will encounter when entering school. The three tables fold-away to give the educators the freedom to choose between tabletop learning and more active learning engagements.
The seating on the bus is also modular, like the vehicle itself it can be rolled to wherever it is needed. The bus is equipped with a high-quality sound system set up in multiple learning stations allowing for multiple multisensory learning experiences. The bus has the ability to become a mobile hotspot and therefore has its own Wi-Fi capabilities. This is beneficial not only to the ELC educators but also to future projects where the community may need internet access.
Lessons with a Purpose
The current mobile learning plan is to travel amongst local childcare providers throughout Manatee County, providing enriching opportunities that support kindergarten readiness by hosting educational content aboard. One such program is STEAM; STEAM represents the concepts from Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math combined into hands-on learning. The creative thinking process is celebrated as children are asked to solve problems and be creative. The Mobile Learning Lab will also host other educational opportunities.
Director of Community Educational Initiatives at the Early Learning Coalition, Rachel Spivey said: “We provide instruction to childcare sites that align directly with the Florida Standards and the content provided by teachers in Manatee County schools. Our goal is to ensure we wrap the entire community in educational continuity, meaning that students from different parts of the county will enter kindergarten with similar educational experiences. We want our programs and fleet to provide a motivating setting that encourages children to become enthusiastic lifelong learners.”
The Mobile Learning Lab will also be used for ‘Operation W.I.T,’ a new program that will be run through the From Cradle to College Foundation that exists to support the programs of ELC. This program will launch in October, bringing the Mobile Learning Lab into the community on weeknights and weekends to provide a multi-faceted approach to supporting childhood development. The targeted goal is to help children and families reach their maximum ability by partnering with churches and community organizations throughout the county.
The program will utilize a three-part procedure. First, the Mobile Learning Lab, in addition to the other fleet vehicles, will provide a safe and welcoming setting for youth education. Next, parents will receive an effective parenting curriculum with a trained professional. Lastly, the participating parents and children will regroup in an early childhood activity where the authentic application of the learned parenting and educational practice can occur with the support of the parent and child educators.
Full Speed Ahead
The success of the mobile learning fleet has the ELC perpetually moving forward. Superintendent Saunders expressed her hope to have many, many, more mobile learning opportunities at the Mobile Learning Lab launch and offered her support in providing another bus – with wheelchair access and the ability to reach even more students.
Follow the ELC on Facebook (@ELC.Manatee) for more unique and innovative programs. If you are interested in donating to assist with the Coalition’s learning initiatives and the fleet of vehicles, please visit. http://www.elc-manatee.org/Donate