Western GarCo Preschool on Wheels rolls on | PostIndependent.com

Western GarCo Preschool on Wheels rolls on

Heading into its sixth year, the Preschool on Wheels Program, which provides four hours a week of education for young children unable to attend preschools in Rifle, Silt and New Castle, received one of its first donations of 2017 from United Site Services.

Preschool on Wheels program manager Logan Hood accepted the $750 check from employees of the United Site Services (USS) branch in Rifle. Half of the donation came from corporate headquarters, the other half donated by the employees from their own wallets.

"We donated for the kids," said John Davis, an employee at USS who services the preschool bus. "Several of our employees have younger kids, and this is a great opportunity for them. I have grandchildren that may one day be in the program."

Such donations remain instrumental to the program in reaching its annual local business match goal of $30,000. Each year that number is matched, securing $60,000 in donations and grant money for the kids to continue to get quality preschool education.

The Aspen Community Foundation launched the Preschool on Wheels program in the fall of 2012 as part of its Cradle to Career Initiative to assure the kindergarten, college and career readiness of the region's 22,000 children and to address the fact that two out of three children in Rifle, Silt and New Castle did not have access to quality preschool education. The program was launched in the fall of 2012 with "Gus the Bus." "The Sunshine Bus" was added in 2013. Preschool on Wheels is the first mobile preschool to be licensed by the state of Colorado.

Both buses have been repurposed into mobile classrooms, equipped with air conditioning and bathrooms. The program, which has served 450 kids throughout the Garfield School District Re-2, continues to expand and has even gained national attention.

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Hood said that she has been contacted by teachers and administrators from school districts throughout the country inquiring about the program. She had one caller from Oakland, California, looking to bring Gus the Bus to the Bay Area.

Though it is less than traditional schooling, kids who sign up attend two-hour classes twice a week for a total of four hours a week of class for each student. Gus travels to six Rifle neighborhoods from September through June, and Sunshine visits six Silt and New Castle neighborhoods.

The money raised by USS and other companies will be used for classroom supplies, gas and to help organize parent meetings, which occur once a month.

"Every dollar makes a difference for these kids," Hood said. "We hope to fill in the gaps so that every student is on equal footing."

Hood added that the bonds that these kids make through Gus or Sunshine have lasted long after they've left the bus as these students and families become a part of their own little family. They attend birthday parties together and form their own support network with kids and families from their neighborhood.

"We've heard great things about friendships that were formed from Gus or Sunshine from both the parents and the students," Hood explained. "The trust we have from the community is enormous. We've become a staple within the community, and people know the value that we bring. We couldn't do what we do without the support of the Garfield Re-2 School District."

"The partnership between the Aspen Valley Community Foundation and Garfield Re-2 has taken the Preschool on Wheels program from an outreach vehicle and lending library to an preschool option that provides high-quality early childhood instruction for nearly 100 children and their families every year," said Theresa Hamilton, director of communication for Re-2. "Our data shows that students on both Gus the Bus and The Sunshine Bus make substantial academic growth during their time with us."

Dan Mickelson, branch manager at the Silt Branch Library, has had four kids go through either Gus or Sunshine and praised the program on how it prepared his kids both academically and socially.

"The care and attention the teachers gave my kids helped them ease into the first school experience they received," he said. "In the home my kids frequently reference things that they discussed in school and often talk about their teachers and friends on the bus."

The Preschool on Wheels program continues to demonstrate its students have significantly increased their cognitive, social-emotional, language and literacy skills, according to Hood. Last year's Preschool on Wheels participants showed marked increases in literacy, social-emotional, and language development, including a 27 percent increase in demonstrating knowledge of the alphabet, a 14 percent increase in demonstrating ability to regulate personal emotions and behaviors, and a 12 percent increase in demonstrating ability to use language to express thoughts and needs.

"There shouldn't be anything preventing families from getting their children on equal footing," she added.

The Preschool on Wheels Program services around 120 kids per year, and there is already a wait list, so parents with a child that will be 3 by October should look to sign up as soon as possible. Those interested in enrolling or would like more information can call Logan Hood at 970-925-9300 and can go to the Aspen Community Foundation website at http://www.aspencommunityfoundation.org.

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