Feb 24, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff WriterWind River Schools have a new bus -- both inside and out.
The vehicle is shorter, has a side door that opens with a pull from the driver and has full windows running along both sides.
But instead of yellow, this one is royal purple, just like the school colors. The top is sleek silver, and instead of noting what district the bus belongs to, the markings along the bus's side reads "Little Cougars Preschool."
Another notable difference between this new ride and the more traditional ones is what's inside.
A small table with chairs and other furniture replace the typical two rows of seats. There are toys, books and other items essential for learning. The floor is carpeted, and aside from the seat where the bus driver sits, the only other spot for an adult to sit comfortably is a small seat behind the driver.
"I think it's a great investment, I would say it's the right investment," Fremont County School District 6 superintendent Diana Clapp said.
For the last several months, District 6 has worked retrofitting the school bus. The vehicle is district-owned after Wind River purchased it back from the state. The bus will soon serve as a mobile preschool that will visit the rural district's youngest residents.
The bus will operate on Thursdays, and elementary teacher Michelle Carr will run the program. A paraprofessional will join her on routes, which will span the 1,300-square-mile district.
"I am pleased Ms. Carr is on board with these preschool programs," Clapp said. "She will make a great home-school connection, and she has a passion for preschool-aged children."
Carr said she will spend 30 minutes at each house. Parents and children up to 3 years of age will board the bus where the child will work with Carr on language and academics. Carr also will work with parents on a child's developmental skills.
"It will be highly individualized for each family," Carr explained.
After the visit, Carr will give the family activities to work on until she returns the following week.
Because Wyoming does not fund preschool programs, District 6 had to get creative in securing money for the mobile school, which is free to families. Funds are coming from several revenue sources including Impact Aid, Title I grants and a partnership with Wyoming Kids First.
"I feel like we are morally obligated to reach families," Carr said, adding that research shows early childhood education affects a child's future in learning.
Also, Wyoming Kids First is looking to provide a nurse practitioner to accompany Carr on the bus and assist with health education. The individual will serve as a resource for parents who have questions.
Both Clapp and Carr estimate at least 30 families are interested in having the mobile preschool, and there are already efforts being made to seek additional funds to expand services to more than one day.
"We've got a lot of ground to cover," Clapp said.
In addition to the mobile preschool, Wind River expanded its pre-kindergarten program on campus, which is the only nationally accredited one in Fremont County.
They now offer a class for 3-year-olds, a preschool at Crowheart Elementary School and a parents and tots course.
"It's been pretty smooth," administrator Barney Lacock said about the additional curriculum.
Carr said families seem to benefit from the programs.
"A lot of them are stay-at-home moms, and it can be isolating," she said. "We have dads and grandparents too who come to tots and parents. To be able to connect with families is great."
Aubrey Mobley attends the parents and tots class with her 14-month-old daughter Luci. Her daughter Anne is enrolled in the school's preschool class for 3-year-olds.
"They want to see kids," Mobley said about her children's enjoyment at the school.
The mobile school bus will visit Luci at Mobley's house as well.
"When kids see a bus, they know it means school," Mobley said. "They get that early exposure to school."
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