Vail Today: YouthPower365 rolls out new Magic Bus to serve preschoolers (video)

Keep your eyes peeled for a big, colorful Magic Bus cruising throughout Eagle County. YouthPower365 just dispatched their newest mobile preschool vehicle to serve youth ages 3 to 5 who don’t attend a traditional preschool.

Many parents, kids, donors and supporters of YouthPower365 gathered at Avon Elementary School on Wed., Jan. 3 to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony and take a tour of this new 99 square-foot “classroom on wheels”.

Deb Dutmer, Magic Bus program manager, remembers the early days of the Magic Bus, which dates back to May of 2000, when it started out as a mobile library that delivered books to kids in elementary and middle school. It soon evolved to a mobile preschool program.

In 2006, Dutmer was hired full-time to start developing the mobile preschool program. Besides being the mom of two boys, she admits she had very little experience teaching preschoolers.

“I still remember something that Jeanne McQueeney said to me when I confessed my fears of not being qualified as an early childhood educator. She said, ‘Deb, you love children, want to see the best future for them and are passionate about the mission of the Magic Bus, so you ARE an early childhood educator!’ She was right,” Dutmer said.

There was such a high need up and down the valley that the only way they could serve as many kids as possible was to have one hour visits at each location. “Even with that little exposure to a classroom environment, kinder teachers were telling us they could see a difference in the kids when started kindergarten! It was a HUGE motivator and indicated that we were on the right track,” Dutmer said.

Melissa Rewold-Thuon, vice president of education for the Vail Valley Foundation said that the mobile book bus is a licensed preschool program that serves children in some of Eagle County’s most at-risk neighborhoods.

“Many of you may not know, but according to Eagle County’s recent Early Childhood Roadmap, more than half the children in Eagle County are not enrolled in any early childhood program prior to starting kindergarten, yet studies show that 80% of a child’s intellect, personality and social skills are developed in the first five years of life,” said Rewold-Thuon.

The wheels on the Magic Bus go around full circle for one employee. Maria Calvo used to take her kids to the Magic Bus when it first started coming to her neighborhood.

“What I liked about the Magic Bus was that it gave me help for my son, who was about to start kindergarten. I was nervous that he might not be prepared for it. My older son had gone to kindergarten and had a rough time because he didn’t know how to socialize or how to use his words to express his feelings. As a mom you want to give your kids everything so they can succeed in life, but I felt like I was failing and I didn’t want my other son to go through the same situation,” Calvo said.

Today, Calvo’s sons are 15 and 11 years old and she is the now the Magic Bus program’s down valley teacher as well as the driver of this brand new vehicle, which is 33 feet 8 inches in length, 8 and a half feet wide and almost 13 feet tall.

While watching the children play and interact in the new Magic Bus, Dutmer said, “Did I ever think we would have a beautiful new Winnebago complete with bathroom, refrigerator and Wi-Fi to serve our community – no. But I am so grateful that we do!”

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