Driving education into local neighborhoods | PostIndependent.com

Driving education into local neighborhoods

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After adding a second mobile preschool to its fleet, the Valley Settlement Project is providing free educational opportunities to more than 90 children in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

The bus-turned-classroom, known as El Busesito No. 2, hit the road on June 17, joining the original El Busesito that was launched in October 2012. Each bus has been remodeled to serve as a classroom for children from low-income families, ages 3 to 5.

“The Valley Settlement Project has two goals: to improve school readiness of children from low-income families and to help improve family economic stability by giving parents the tools to get better jobs, become more engaged parents and really become their child’s first teacher,” said Morgan Jacober, director for the Valley Settlement Project.

Between the two buses, the program targets 12 low-income neighborhoods throughout Glenwood and Carbondale, visiting each location twice a week for hour-and-a-half-long sessions. The buses run Monday through Thursday year-round.

Once the bus is parked, preschool-aged children from that neighborhood clamber in for educational opportunities focused on preparing them for kindergarten.

Each bus is equipped with a lead teacher and an assistant teacher, and activities range from arts and crafts and free play to music and counting. Jacober said parents are also required to volunteer a few hours each month, and the entire program is bilingual.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority donated El Busesito No. 1 to the Valley Settlement Project in 2012, after which the program utilized grant funds to remodel the vehicle. From October 2012 to June of this year, El Busesito No. 1 served 48 children.

With the addition of El Busesito No. 2, donated by the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD), Jacober said the program has doubled in size.

“How it works is that the Roaring Fork School District owns the two buses, and they insure, maintain and gas them for us,” Jacober said. “It’s an amazing partnership, and we’re very grateful for it.”

Prior to putting the buses on the road, the Valley Settlement Project piloted an in-depth research process surrounding low-income families in the Roaring Fork Valley, beginning in 2011.

Utilizing a planning grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, staff members spent six months conducting interviews and visits with more than 300 low-income families and 60 local organizations.

“What we were trying to do was find gaps between what low-income families needed and what was being provided in the valley,” Jacober explained. “A huge thing that came from the interviews was the lack of early education opportunities, whether that was related to cost, scheduling or transportation.”

After completing the research process, the Valley Settlement Project received an additional grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation worth $1.2 million, which has helped to fund El Busesito and a number of other community programs.

Additional funding for El Busesito stems from the Colorado-based Daniels Fund and the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, as well as individual donations.

“When we did our initial interviews, only 1 percent of families had a kid attending preschool, and kids obviously need some preparation for kindergarten,” Jacober said. “Pulling into the neighborhood with a mobile preschool bus is the best way to engage these children.”

The El Busesito program uses the same assessment techniques as the RFSD, according to Jacober, which allow the teachers to measure the children’s progress in cognitive, social-emotional and language categories.

“The way we’ve shaped our work is going to people’s homes and asking them directly what they need,” Jacober said. “The progress the kids are making is truly amazing.”

The Valley Settlement Project is a program within The Manaus Fund, which has been investing in local nonprofits since 2005.

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