Preschool on Wheels rolls on
RIFLE — The wheels of the two Preschool on Wheels buses came to a temporary stop last week as the 2015 class celebrated the end of the school year in Centennial Park.
But the program, which has served around 235 children in the Garfield School District Re-2 and gained widespread community support in its first three years, won’t slow down in the long term.
Financial backers, both in Garfield County and elsewhere, recently reaffirmed their commitment to the program with large contributions.
Jimmy Breslin, general manager and owner of Columbine Ford in Rifle, committed another $10,000 earlier this spring — marking the third consecutive year Breslin and his business partners have contributed to the program.
He, like other donators, said all you have to do is spend time on the bus with the children to realize that any donation is money well spent.
“I don’t know if there’s a better way to sped money than on children — I don’t,” he said. “Anybody that’s thinking about giving to this particular program, all they need to do is sit for 15 minutes and watch what goes on, and they’ll give.”
Many people when describing Preschool on Wheels use the word “unique.”
The program’s two school buses have been repurposed as mobile classrooms, equipped with air conditioning and bathrooms. “Gus the Bus” travels to six Rifle neighborhoods, twice weekly for two hours from September through June, and “the Sunshine Bus” visits six neighborhoods in Silt and New Castle. Each bus is staffed with two credentialed teachers — several are bilingual.
The Aspen Community Foundation launched the Preschool on Wheels program in the fall of 2012 as part of its Cradle to Career Initiative, an effort involving nonprofits, education principals, businesses, philanthropies and government leaders to assure the kindergarten, college and career readiness of the region’s 22,000 children.
Research shows that quality preschool is one of the most effective interventions for improving educational and life outcomes, said Jayne Poss, Preschool on Wheels program officer with the Aspen Community Foundation. Yet, many children in western Garfield County face an uphill challenge due to a lack of access to quality preschool — a fact that is increasingly evident among low-income households, Poss said in explaining the establishment of the program.
Daniela Kreutzer, of Rifle, is one of those parents whose children might not have access to preschool were it not for the program. Her daughter, Naomi, attended the program two years ago and her son, Tristan, just completed his first year in the program. He wants to go every day, Kreutzer said, adding that she has seen measurable progress throughout Tristan’s first year.
“I think it’s just amazing that you have the opportunity to send your kids to a school like this,” she said.
The need for more early childhood education coupled with the program’s effectiveness likely explains the support in the community, said Katie Mackley, president of the Rifle Community Foundation, another organization providing financial support to the program.
“The community as a whole is very appreciative for this program,” she said.
In April the program became the first licensed mobile preschool provider in the state, following an in-depth review by the Colorado Division of Early Care and Learning.
“I’ve been involved in launching preschool programs across the country, and I haven’t come across anything like this,” said Kathryn Jensen, executive director of the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation, a philanthropic organization supporting education and other endeavors. The foundation recently contributed a $10,000 matching grant to the program.
Elizabeth Russo, one of the “Gus” teachers who has been with the program from the beginning, said one of the noticeable differences about Preschool on Wheels is the closeness teachers develop with the children and their parents.
Russo taught early childhood education in a traditional classroom setting for six years before joining Preschool on Wheels. While teaching on a school bus has its challenges, the experience has been incredibly rewarding, she said.
She recalled a situation last week when a young girl started crying after the teachers told the children about the end-of-year celebration in Centennial Park.
“She almost made me start crying because she said, ‘I don’t want the school to be done,’” Russo said.
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