An unusual school bus lumbered down the road in Mitchell County, Ga., but it wasn’t taking kids to or from school.
Instead of passenger seats, the bus was outfitted with 24 computers. It also had printers, a whiteboard and an overhead projector. It brought an after-school computer lab to kids — and their parents — in this rural, high-poverty county.
The innovative after-school project is the brainchild of the Mitchell County School District.
“We’re constantly trying to find ways to think outside the box to meet the needs of our children,” said School Superintendent Vic Hill.
One afternoon in December, the bus parked outside the Jester Unit of the local Boys & Girls Club. On another day, it sat outside the school district offices in the county seat of Camilla. About half the kids who came that day walked from the surrounding neighborhood, Hill said. The rest of the kids and parents drove. The bus has also parked at Beulah Baptist Church in Camilla and at Goodson Road Church of Christ.
The project was announced to high school students for a test run in December — and to check the 4G wireless connection. The bus went to seven locations with 400 students using it.
Hill was surprised not only by the bus’ popularity among students but by parent participation.
“We had more than 300 parents show up — high school parents — and that’s phenomenal,” Hill said. That level of parent involvement is highly unusual, he said.
It didn’t hurt that a concession wagon came along to serve Cokes, fries and hot dogs.
While the schedule for January is still being worked out, Hill said the bus will likely make two or three one-hour stops each day. A teacher will be on board offering science, math and English help on specific days.
Kids can come to do whatever computer work they need to do.
“We’re also inviting parents to join us,” Hill said. “If they want to get on there and search the web while their children are getting assistance, that’s wonderful. We invite them. This is something we hope will grow.”
Mitchell High School Principal Robert Adams had the original idea.
“A lot of our students live way out in the boonies, and many have a hard time getting someone to pick them up if they stay late after school.” he told the Albany Herald newspaper.
The project went live when the district had an unused school bus, and 24 computers were donated unexpectedly by the Mitchell County Boys & Girls Club. The club had received the computers through a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, Hill said. Because the club did not renew its grant, it was required to donate the computers to the local school system.
Mitchell County serves 2,400 schoolchildren with one high school, one middle school and two elementary schools.
“We are a very poor community. We don’t have a lot of areas that are extremely wealthy,” Hill said. “We try to find ways to make things work and be effective for all.”
Hill also is considering using the bus for a summer learning program, with specific days devoted to specific subjects.
“The possibilities are endless. It’s just a matter of growing it into something that could be worthwhile for this community,” he said.