Rifle area Preschool on Wheels program reaches end of the road
After seven years providing a unique education experience for young children in the region, Preschool on Wheels will be rolling to a final stop at the end of the school year.
Aspen Community Foundation Operations and Resources Director Valerie Carlin said the decision to end the program was a joint one with the Garfield School District Re-2, the district the program serves, and had nothing to do with finances.
Declining enrollment numbers over the past several years led program managers to determine that the need for the mobile preschool program no longer existed, Carlin added.
Since 2012, the Preschool on Wheels program has served 593 children.
It was originally established to fill the gap in access to early childhood education and to ensure that more children living in the towns of Rifle, Silt and New Castle were entering kindergarten prepared to learn.
Prior to the Preschool on Wheels program, an estimated 150 students were not able to access preschool, according to the ACF. Since then, 146 additional site-based preschool spaces have been created for children in Garfield School District Re-2 communities.
The Preschool on Wheels program was launched in the fall of 2012 as a partnership between the Aspen Community Foundation and Garfield School District Re-2 to address the immediate need for preschool access and kindergarten readiness in the region.
The program was launched as part of ACF’s Cradle to Career Initiative.
With the increased availability of early education spaces in Western Garfield County, some of which are reserved for low-income or at-risk students, the program officials believe that nearly everyone in these communities who wants licensed preschool is now able to access it without Preschool on Wheels.
“When the school district and ACF launched Preschool on Wheels, there was a dire need for accessible, quality preschool for low-income children,” Tamara Tormohlen, executive director of ACF, said in the press release. “We did not expect Preschool on Wheels to be a permanent program, but rather a way to fill a critical gap while regional efforts focused on creating more sustainable solutions.”
Garfield Re-2 School District Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton said the Aspen Community Foundation helped take what was an outreach pilot program and turned it into a full-fledged mobile preschool program that changed the state’s perception of such programs.
The ACF/Re-2 partnership led to the state adopting a licensing classification and process for mobile preschool programs.
Colorado added mobile preschools to its rules regulating School-Age Child Care Centers as a result of the local program.
Hamilton added that Preschool of Wheels’ benefits to students has been immeasurable and that Gus the Bus and the Sunshine Bus have left a lasting legacy for other programs.
Throughout its lifetime, the program received interest from educators across the country hoping to learn more and potentially bring in a similar type of program to their districts.
Carlin said the plan is to preserve the two rolling classrooms, Gus the Bus and the Sunshine Bus, and transfer them to a school district that wants to bring the program in for their students.
She added that the first goal is to find a rural Colorado community that wants it. There has been interest in communities across the state, she added.
The Aspen Community Foundation will be celebrating Gus the Bus and the Sunshine Bus’s years in service at its final end-of-school party, set to take place at 6 p.m. May 30 at Centennial Park in Rifle.
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