Mar 31, 2016 - By Christina George, Staff WriterWind River preschool idea earns national recognition
Four years ago, Wind River's school district added a bus to its fleet to help crisscross northern Fremont County.
But this wasn't an ordinary school bus.
Rather, the short, retrofitted bus is a preschool classroom on wheels. And, instead of a bus driver picking up and dropping off students, the teacher and nurse on board travel to isolated families to provide weekly one-on-one services.
The mobile preschool classroom, affectionately called the "Purple Bus," was a bold innovative step by Fremont County School District 6 to improve the lives of students and the community, according to analysts from the National School Boards Association.
The program was recently honored with the prestigious Magna Awards, sponsored by NSBA's flagship magazine, American School board Journal.
It's the first of such award for a Wyoming school district, said Wind River superintendent Diana Clapp.
"I think they liked the idea that for students and families who had geographical isolations and didn't have access to those services, that we found a way to get those services to them," Clapp said. "We did it in a cost-effective manner, and the idea that it really is a replicable program, no matter what your setting is. If you have families and young children in your district that are isolated due to whatever barriers, this is a non-threatening way to meet people and foster those relationships."
Meeting a need
Wind River has had a preschool on its Pavillion campus since 2002. But administrators found they weren't reaching all families of the 457 students and realized geographical location was a major barrier in the rural, 1,300-square-mile district.
There are no medical service providers, preschools or licensed day care programs within School District 6's boundaries, which also includes portions of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Since fall 2012, a certified teacher travels on the Purple Bus to homes once a week and holds 30-minute sessions with young children. Parents are provided with information about medical options and other resources as well. A nurse joins the teacher once a month to provide health education to families.
Today, 75 pupils are enrolled in Wind River's preschool program either on campus or through the Purple Bus. The mobile classroom has become so popular the district is in the midst of retrofitting a standard school bus to replace the smaller one.
An independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators selected the award winners from nearly 200 submissions, according to NSBA.
"Public schools work tirelessly to improve student achievement," said NSBA executive director, Thomas J. Gentzel. "These Magna Award-winning districts are some of the finest examples of the creativity and dedication of our public school leaders across this nation."
Wind River earned the grand prize in the "under 5,000 enrollment category." Two larger schools in Crown Point, Indiana, and Bedford Texas, were also named winners.
The three districts will receive $5,000 during a special presentation at NSBA's annual conference April 9 in Boston. Clapp and School District 6 Trustee Kristen Benson will give a presentation about the Purple Bus at the conference.
Clapp said she's proud of her staff, the school board and others in the district who worked to make the program successful.
"Being a small district in Wyoming and being so rural, it's like we can almost relate to the idea of isolation and access, and to see that outside of our boundaries, that someone noticed and affirmed the high-quality of that, it felt pretty cool," she said.
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