116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOUNT VERNON — Students will convert a school bus into an elementary classroom in Mount Vernon as a part of a state grant supporting STEM education.
The Mount Vernon Community School District is one of 38 districts to receive up to $40,000 each in state grants under the STEM BEST HD program. The “Business Engaging Students and Teachers” program focuses on high-demand skills in science, technology, engineering and math and was supported by an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature.
“This award is by far the biggest project we’ve ever done,” said Susannah Maddock, Mount Vernon K-12 extended learning program teacher. “It’s a little daunting, but I’m excited to get started.”
Students will gain experience in advanced manufacturing activities from demolition to design, to building and outfitting the bus with technology, to be complete by August 2023.
There is a shortage of classroom space in the district, especially in the elementary school, Maddock said. “There are no open classrooms, and right now we have a few specials teachers” — such as music, art and extended learning program — “operating off of mobile carts because they don’t have a dedicated classroom.”
Maddock said the converted school bus will be a few steps up from a portable classroom, which are “ugly and clunky” modular buildings installed temporarily at schools to provide additional classroom space. “Nobody likes a portable,” Maddock said.
Converting school buses into houses is the newest trend in downsizing in to a tiny home. Maddock thought if people can live in a school bus, why can’t it be converted in to a classroom?
In her research, she found other schools across the United States doing similar projects and was inspired.
District officials are looking for a school bus that’s been decommissioned or retired from another school district. These can usually be purchased for an “unbelievably cheap” price, Maddock said.
High school students in industrial arts classes and Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates will contribute to building the classroom. The exact role students will play still is being developed by teachers.
The first step will be demolishing the inside of the bus. The bus seats will be ripped out, new flooring put in and new lighting added. The converted bus will not be mobile.
Counters will be added and flexible seating options incorporated, including a cozy corner with soft seating, Maddock said. Maddock hopes there will be enough room for students to be able to work on the bus’ floor if they want to.
One of the biggest challenges is finding a way to heat and cool the bus, Maddock said. “It’s probably going to be a similar system to what we have in a classroom, a wall-mount unit you would see in like a hotel,” she said.
Solar panels will be installed to the roof of the bus to decrease the cost of heating and cooling the classroom and powering the technology inside. A deck will be built on to the bus as an outdoor learning space.
A school bus holds 65 students when seated. “We’re not going to pack them in like that,” Maddock said. At most, 25 students would be using the classroom space at one time, she said.
The school bus will be a classroom for students in the extended learning program, which serves gifted and high-ability students. Students are recommended for the program by their teachers.
“It might be they have strong engineering or reading or writing skills,” Maddock said. “So I take them to build that skill for a short period of time.”
About 180 students in third through eighth grades are in the extended learning program, for which Maddock is the only teacher.
Kris Perreault Construction, Nelson Electric and Rabe Solar have all committed to working with the students and district on the school bus project.
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