What once was a typical yellow school bus picking up and dropping off Petersburg City Public Schools students is now a family-student resource center on wheels.
The district transformed a school bus into a student and family resource center that functions as a mobile library, internet cafe with Wi-Fi access, information hub and a career and resource distribution center.
The bus is meant to meet the needs of the Petersburg school community where the community is, rather than having to come to schools, according to Pam Bell, chief student advancement officer with Petersburg Schools.
“It’s been important for us to be able to provide whatever resource that we can, for all of our families and our students exactly where they live. We know that many times, our parents will come into school but also some may not have transportation [to do so],” Bell said. “We really want to build a closer relationship with our families, and we believe that going in their neighborhoods helps to build that relationship and also build that rapport and that trust.”
In the works for about two years, the bus was envisioned ahead of the coronavirus pandemic that kept students out of school for over a year. Petersburg has welcomed back a limited number of students in the past few weeks.
The exterior of the school bus, called “The Wave,” is painted white, yellow and with a metallic red wave — a nod to the high school’s Crimson Wave. Inside, traditional seats were removed and in their place are a few cushioned seats with storage compartments, tables and books for students of all ages.
When the bus travels around, it will have laptops and a printer and other resources on board. A goal of the bus is to always hand out books to children, and so the school system will always be in need of book donations.
To get the bus up and running cost the district about $75,000 and involved adding a generator, an air conditioner, furniture, technology and resource materials.
The bus will travel all around Petersburg and participate in events with local churches, apartments, neighborhoods, nonprofit organizations and city government. The district wants to partner with financial companies to help run workshops for parents.
Bell hopes to park the bus outside of the local Walmart and Target to meet families where they are and inform them of what the district is doing, instead of assuming parents know about everything happening in the schools.
But the district also wants to support parents. On-site, parents can create résumés with templates and learn the “do’s and don’ts” of what to have on a résumé.
“Sometimes, people just don’t know how to ask [or] who to ask, and so we want to be able to figure out what it is you need and if we don’t have the answer, we know community partners who can answer,” Bell said.
Schools Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin says the purpose of education is to improve the quality of life for families, and so the district didn’t hesitate to include resources for parents and guardians on the bus.
“Because when you educate one, you’re really improving your quality of life. So we think about our work as family work, not necessarily individual student work,” Pitre-Martin said.
The school district is looking for one or two dedicated bus drivers for the summer. The district’s Student Support Team will staff the bus, going out into the community.
The bus is set to travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in June and July and will add Mondays in August. After school starts in the fall, it will travel only on request.
The bus will make a few stops before the end of the current school year, probably within the next two weeks. The district plans to use the bus to remind parents about SOL testing and daily attendance.
Vernon Johns Middle School wants the bus to deliver rewards to students who have been doing well this school year.
The support team and volunteer parents will staff the summer bus, parking in different locations ready to teach students and answer questions from parents. For the students, reading and math activities are planned, including using big inflatable dice, logic games and vocabulary development.
Learning activities offered from the bus this summer will be based on what teachers and school administrators are noticing students need additional practice with. So far, Bell has heard from teachers that students would benefit from multiplication and subtraction summer lessons.
“We’re excited to go and connect with our families,” she said. “We love that part of it.”