Jessica Lilly Published

Bus Classrooms Provide Mobile Summer Learning for Mercer County Students

A girl in line for the school bus.

County school systems are putting the American Rescue Plan dollars to work this summer. One mobile program meant to bring education closer to the students began Monday in Southern West Virginia.

Mercer County Schools created a program using buses that will travel around the county over the next three weeks.

Teachers on the buses will provide a 2-hour learning session for students at each stop. Each bus carries different teachers and materials for a host of topics.

“Our students’ academic achievement has dropped in reading and math, and it’s not their fault,” Amy Harrison is data and information specialist with Mercer County Schools. “It’s not our teachers fault, either. Our teachers really stepped up, learned the online learning platform. There’s no substitute for a teacher in a classroom with his or her students. There just isn’t.”

Mercer County Schools used federal funds to buy things like portable tables, outdoor canopies and books. To address the social and emotional needs of students, the program also used funds to pay a social worker or nurse on each bus.

“We know that this has been difficult for our students, not only academically, but emotionally and socially. The West Virginia DHHR told us that they had a 67% drop in CPS referrals, not because there was a drop in neglect cases and abuse cases, just because there were not eyes on these kids.”

The mobile buses are also meant to help bridge some of the broadband and technology challenges that students and families living in more rural areas face.

“People in outlying areas, they don’t have access to the internet, or it’s very spotty, and sparse,” Harrison said. “So some of these online programs that we have always had for our students if they don’t have reliable internet, that’s just not possible. So with these outreach buses, we can come closer to where they live to improve the chances of these students being able to come out to us.”

In fact, one of the buses will focus on technology. Teachers are prepared to help students as well as their parents.

“If they need some help with Schoology, which was the online learning platform that we used so much this year — where kids were on remote learning so much this year — we can help them with that,” Harrison said.

The technology bus will also include virtual reality (VR) goggles. Another bus will focus on engineering and math.

“They have all kinds of supplies to do really cool, neat experiments with the kids. Engineering projects with things like Legos, popsicle sticks, so there’ll be building things,” Harrison said. “The students will be sent home with bags full of do-it- yourself experiments that don’t require a whole lot of adult supervision. They will also be supplied with books on the theme of whatever activities they did that day.”

The third bus will focus on fitness and music.

“They’ll learn how to stay fit with everyday things like hula hoops, jump ropes, basketball relay races,” Harrison said. “The bus will also have ukuleles. They are going to learn how to play ukuleles.”

There will also be an art, drama and a writing bus.

“They’ll be drawing, painting, they’ll do some improv and some skits,” Harrison said. “Then they’ll have writing prompts to go along with the activities that they do that day with the bus.

“It’s going to thrill them I think, you know, because in the summer, kids have a great time in the summer, but their brains sometimes need a little stimulation,” Harrison added. “They’re going to be excited to see their teachers because these teachers come from their communities as well. And they’re going to be learning without realizing their learning.”

Parents do not have to go to the bus events with students who are already attending summer programs setup by Mercer County Schools. A full list of summer programs for students in Mercer County is on the district’s website. The MCS also has supplied a schedule for the mobile units.