Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 unveils first electric, mobile preschool
More than half of Eagle County’s young children never attend preschool, and with early learning and child care options impacted by COVID-19-related restrictions, that number is growing.
The Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 is doing its part to change that, putting learning opportunities on wheels for local 3-to-5 year-olds who do not have access to formal preschool programs. This summer, the Magic Bus community had several successful outdoor gatherings, continuing programming in new and creative ways, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the bus itself couldn’t operate.
Now, Magic Bus programming has returned with one big change: an all-electric Magic Bus joins the two-vehicle fleet. The new Magic Bus is a brand new, Winnebago Industries Specialty Vehicle — the first all-electric mobile preschool in the world, and one of the first ever all-electric RVs.
The all-electric bus will join its gas-powered counterpart so two buses will make the rounds through neighborhoods from Avon to Dotsero four days a week beginning Oct. 5. Classes are free, helping ensure that critical childhood learning is available to as many children and families in the community as possible.
“The children and families served by the Magic Bus need to be kindergarten-ready even considering the current crisis,” YouthPower365 PwrUp Senior Manager Kendra Cowles said. “The Magic Bus plays a critical role in preparing them to successfully transition to school.”
100 miles on batteries
The Vail Valley Foundation’s Magic Bus is based on Winnebago Industries’ standard J33SE all-electric/zero-emission commercial vehicle, utilizing Motiv’s all-electric EPIC Ford F-53 chassis. The vehicle delivers up to 100 miles on a full charge.
The new Magic Bus is expected to see up to 85% operation and maintenance cost savings over a similar gas-powered vehicle.
“We are pleased to see our all-electric vehicle platform being used to provide early childcare programs for Eagle County’s low-income families. The all-electric vehicle will enable operation in a quiet, emission-free manner,” said Robert Kim, director of Winnebago Industries Specialty Vehicle Division.
When the Magic Bus rolls into a neighborhood, children climb aboard for a day of learning, growth, education, and emotional support from bilingual teachers. Through songs, read-alouds, exercise games and vocabulary-building activities in Spanish and English, the children gain essential preparation for the big step into kindergarten.
“Most parents walk their student to the bus, which allows for a quick check-in to see how the family and child are doing, share tidbits about class instruction or their specific child’s progress,” Cowles said. “The bus is customized to operate as a center-based preschool classroom, complete with dramatic play and kitchen areas, building blocks and plenty of dinosaurs.”
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, YouthPower365 worked closely with Eagle County Public Health to develop new protocols including the creation of a sanitary environment, utilizing social distancing, masks, frequent hand washing, and many other techniques.
From mobile library to preschool
The Magic Bus program got its start more than 20 years ago as a mobile library that delivered books to children throughout the community. It has since evolved to become a mobile preschool, incorporating specific early childhood education programs including ZooPhonics, Estrellitas (Spanish phonics) and Storybook Journey curriculum designed to help young children prepare for kindergarten.
“The program is constantly evolving,” Cowles said. “As one Magic Bus teacher frequently says, ‘we just roll with it.’ Through the context of popular children’s books and important themes, learning is individualized and provides inspiration for discovery. The electric bus has opened many new doors for partnership, along with being stewards and educators of a cleaner environment and the promotion of new ideas leading to positive change.”
The change is delivered with the lightest carbon footprint.
“Motiv’s mission is to free fleets from fossil fuels, so it’s encouraging to see community outreach merge with emission-free transportation to provide education to families who are unable to access brick and mortar facilities,” Matt O’Leary, Motiv Chairman and CEO said. “Equal education and clean air are two of the most important things we can provide to the next generation, and we are proud to play a part in the Vail Valley Magic School Bus project.”
For more information, go to YouthPower365.org.