By Dave Ongie
When Amy Stover took over as the president of the Johnson City Public Schools Foundation, she was looking for one big project everyone in the school system and the community could rally around.
“We’ve always done teacher grants, and that’s a wonderful thing,” Stover said. “But I believed we needed a project to focus on.”
So Stover sent an email to some administrators at Central Office asking a simple question. What could you do with $10,000? Almost immediately, Dr. David Timbs, the school system’s supervisor of secondary and instructional technology, replied with an idea that caught Stover’s attention. Timbs had seen a STEM bus, which was similar to a bookmobile. But instead of spreading literacy throughout the school system, the bus offered portable science, technology, engineering and math activities.
“I loved that idea, and I got permission from the foundation board,” Stover said.
Last summer, members of the Johnson City School System and the Johnson City Public Schools Foundation traveled to Murfreesboro to see a STEM bus that was operating in that part of the state. One year later, Johnson City’s own STEAM bus – STEM with a dose of Art – is ready to hit the road and bring state-of-the-art lessons to students in all eight of the city’s elementary schools.
The fact that Johnson City’s STEAM bus went from an idea to a reality in one year is a testament to the commitment to education shared by the city government, the school system, local businesses and private citizens. The bus was donated by the city, but the project still required a buy-in from the community in order to cover the project’s estimated $100,000 price tag.
“The city donated a bus that had been taken out of service and donated that to the school system,” Stover said. “And then we started getting out and talking to businesses, getting the word out. People really seemed to like the idea, too.”
There were several fundraisers, including a spelling bee in April that raised $12,000 for the project. Private donations were also collected, and by the summer Stover estimated $70,000 had been raised – a total that includes in-kind donations. While it isn’t the full $100,000, Stover said the total is enough to get the wheels of the bus rolling in time to serve the students that will be returning to school next week.
An assistant has been hired to help set up and facilitate the activities that will take place when the mobile classroom arrives at an elementary school. Stover sees the mobility of the STEAM bus as a huge asset.
“Not every school can afford all these resources,” she said. “So we put them in a centralized place and move that resource from school to school, it just makes sense that more kids will be able to use those resources.”
Several teachers were responsible for designing the lessons students will have access to this year, each one designed to enrich the current curriculum. For example, Lake Ridge teacher Maria LeBarbera designed a lesson on rollercoaster engineering. She recorded an interview with a retired Disney Imagineer, and the video will be played as an introduction to the project. Thanks to virtual reality goggles, students will be able to take virtual rollercoster rides after trying their hand at designing a thrill ride.
With so many possibilities to make learning exciting, Stover is thrilled to see the show get on the road.
“Our schools are blessed with a lot of technology, but we’re trying to go a notch above,” she said.