Stocked with STEM supplies and equipment, converted school bus will drive from school to school

COURTESY PHOTO: GRESHAM-BARLOW SCHOOL DISTRICT  - The Tomorrow Bus will compliment elementary and middle school science, engineering and math classes in the Gresham-Barlow School District. Gresham-Barlow School District students soon will be able to step on a bus to tomorrow via a mobile science and engineering innovation lab that will start rolling through Gresham later this month.

"I'm very excited about it," said Carla Gay, the district's executive director of innovations and partnerships.

Painted an eye-catching bright blue, the Tomorrow Bus is a converted short school bus "designed to bring learning opportunities to students through the integration of advanced technology and old-fashioned creativity," according to the district.

The Tomorrow Bus will make the rounds of Gresham-Barlow elementary and middle schools to support STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math) education.

"By the end of April, it will have been at every (district) elementary school and every middle school," Gay said.

The Tomorrow Bus, stocked with equipment and supplies, will supplement and compliment classroom instruction. It also will enhance students' awareness of the many and varied careers possible in STREAM fields, the district said.

"This isn't just a bright and shiny, fun thing. It will adapt and change with the curriculum," Gay said.

The seats have been removed and the bus outfitted with some basic high-tech and science equipment. The district also has created moveable modules with equipment and supplies for different areas of study. The modules will be loaded on and off the bus to tailor the bus stops to each classroom.

Only about 10 students can fit on the bus at a time, but the district also has purchased awnings and tables so other students can learn outside the bus.

"We've purchased some very adaptive and basic things and the bus is outfitted with Wi-Fi," Gay said.

The bus holds lots of possibilities and its uses are not set in stone. Its offerings will change with the needs of the students and curriculum, Gay said.

The district may involve more than just elementary and middle school students. For example, it is possible that high school students could help staff the bus, acting as leaders, teachers and helpers to the younger students, much as they do with Outdoor School, Gay said.

In the summer months, the bus also might go to apartment complexes, parks and other spots where students might benefit from a fun summer break hands-on science or engineering activity.

Beaverton School District has a similar mobile STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) bus they call Future Bus.

The idea and the name for the Tomorrow Bus came from science, math and STEM teacher Tom Erickson and his students at Clear Creek Middle School.

For the last several years, his students have entered the highly competitive Samsung Solve for Tomorrow national competition. Solve for Tomorrow asks students to find a solution a real-world problem using STEM disciplines.

Although the Tomorrow Bus didn't win an award in the competition, Erickson and his students are thrilled this concept is becoming a reality.

"It didn't garner us anything from Samsung, but it's the one thing that is actually happening. It is amazing the support that we've gotten from the community," Erickson said.

"We're really thankful the district is also keeping the name. The kids are really excited about that," he said.


It takes a village

Many community organizations rallied to make the Tomorrow Bus possible.

These companies donated funds or services: Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation, 100+ Women Who Care, McDonald & Wetle, Boeing, Knapheide Manufacturing, First Student Inc., Hollywood Signs and Graphics and Tokola Properties.

"We have a long list of partners. We couldn't have done this without them," said Carla Gay, Gresham-Barlow School district's executive director of innovations and partnerships.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!