Reminiscent of the old Bookmobile that brought books to inner cities and rural communities, education efforts on wheels are making a comeback.
The idea of bringing education, science, and the arts to youth via bus or mobile classroom has accelerated around the world from New York to California, London to Mexico. Reminiscent of the old Bookmobile that brought books to inner cities and rural communities, these education efforts on wheels are making a comeback and a real difference in children’s lives.
A popular example of this trend is the science-themed BioBus, which wows children with the internal workings of tiny organisms, enlarged body hair, and scary microscopic monsters. BioBus is the brainchild of Dr. Ben Dubin-Thalerand, who transformed a 1974 San Francisco transit bus into a mobile high tech lab. After only six years in operation, BioBus now reaches 20,000 students per year, visiting public schools, camps, parks and fairs in New York City and throughout the U.S. Beyond textbooks and formulas, the BioBus has succeeded by bringing the wonder of science back to kids and to spark imagination in many a child that would not typically have access to microscopes and cameras.
In the realm of IT, visionary Estella Pyfrom bought and outfitted a bus with computers to bring technology to students, adults and even seniors. The moving IT lab has 17 computer stations and has provided more than 2,000 students with free, computer-based learning. Called “Estella’s Brilliant Bus,” the vehicle brings learning to schools, shelters and community centers throughout Palm Beach County, FL. Many of the families she reaches do not otherwise have access to computers and are therefore getting further behind in the digital realm. Estella’s Brilliant Bus team shares educational software and provides GED and college assistance, leadership training as well as tutoring in school basics allowing students to catch up and excel. Adults are trained in banking, resume and job searching techniques. Pyfrom is a career educator and at 76-years-old, has spent her own savings on the bus.
The popular John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a full recording studio on wheels. In existence for more than 16 years, the bus brings the latest software and technologies to students for the purpose of creating art, music and film. There are three on board engineers that work with students through free workshops to produce music, video and photography. In just a single-day workshop, students can create a mini feature film, documentary or music video. All these activities allow youth that would never dream of having access to this kind of equipment, a channel for self expression and the hope of a career in the creative music and video fields.
The Bus also travels the country visiting schools, music and technology conferences, and partners with media outlets to host the competitive high school Battles of the Bands. During the Lennon Bus tours, hundreds of thousands of students and educators have the opportunity to get inspired through hands-on experience with the equipment found on board.
The Classroom on Wheels project was born in Mexico by Katie Clancy, co-founder of Colectivo 473, a nonprofit that brings art and education to children living in group homes and marginalized communities. These youth face the common challenges of poverty: domestic and gang violence, drugs, alcoholism, high unemployment, single-parent households, illiteracy and teen pregnancy. They lack supervision and after-school programming. Because of geography, economic hardship, and the work schedules of their relatives they cannot traverse the city. Classroom on Wheels sought to address these challenges. The concept is to bring educational programming to the children via a Jeep stocked with science, art, photography, IT equipment, books, and cooking supplies. For travelers driving to Mexico, consider bringing down supplies and volunteering to deliver educational workshops in partnership with DoGoodAsYouGo.org.
Alice Gugelev is the Director of DoGoodAsYouGo.org, transforming the adventure travel sector by including volunteering as a standard part of every traveler’s plans.
This piece is part of the series "Travel Like You Give a Damn," where we share stories of inspiring individuals who are traveling around the world with purpose.
Illustration by Corinna Loo