A repurposed special needs school bus in Baltimore County, Maryland, is giving K-5 students a chance to code, build robots, use 3D printers and even fly drones as the new Mobile Innovation Lab, District Administration reports.
The bus, which was even repainted, is full of ed tech and STEM equipment and spends one week at each elementary school chosen through a lottery process before moving to the next one.
In addition to the STEM lab on wheels, the district also has a resource library with many of the same STEM tools that can be checked out and brought to schools. The program is designed to expose minorities to magnet school opportunities and interest girls in STEM.
Buses can be quite useful long after their days of student pickups are over. For example, Coachella Valley Unified School District — which is the second poorest district in the country — in 2016 converted eight school buses into built-out mobile hotspots driven to the district’s poorest neighborhoods, allowing students to access WiFi within a 100-yard radius.
In Colorado, four mobile preschool programs are operating out of re-purposed buses to deliver early-childhood learning to low-income areas. The price per year to operate the program ranges from $280,000 to $350,000 in grants or donations.
In some districts, former school buses serve as traveling cafes that deliver food to students in the summer. The retrofit costs between $55,000 to $60,000 and can serve thousands of meals paid for by the National School Lunch program.
Buses aren’t the only school resources being reused, either. Old computers take on new life through Towson University’s Educyle program. High school interns clean, run diagnostics and redistribute the old computers to local school districts’ student labs. The districts then install new software and operating systems. Towson’s technology manager developed the idea after her lab received 300 new computers, even though the existing ones were only three years old and still in good condition.