On the bus to a better future
New mobile preschool is a vehicle for change in the journey toward equitable early-childhood education.
This bus doesn’t take kids to school. This bus is the school.
The mobile classroom — complete with books, shelves, technology and even a bathroom — is a vehicle for change in early-childhood education.
And the driver of that change is Roya Brown, who founded the Colorado nonprofit You Be You Early Learning (YbY) in 2019. The teacher-led cooperative aims to make preschool education more equitable. And the blue bus is the latest addition to the organization’s wide array of services for families in underresourced neighborhoods.
“The two most important components of equity are access and affordability,” said Brown, who graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Education program in 2000. “YbY gives families in our community free access to educational opportunities and many resources that help to promote community resilience.”
Brown’s work comes amid Colorado’s recent successes in bolstering early-childhood education. In November 2020, voters approved a universal preschool program that will offer each child 10 hours of early care and education per week in the year before they enter kindergarten.
And this past November, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled Colorado’s Office of Early Childhood, aimed at making early-childhood education more available.
“We know that parents face difficulties at work due to the lack of child care,” Polis said during a ceremony at Aurora Public Schools’ Meadowood Child Development Center. “A single mom should be able to go on, finish her degree. We ought to remove the barriers from that.”
Success on wheels
Brown’s achievements with YbY are a case study in how to remove those barriers.
Last June, she partnered with the Aurora Housing Authority to serve preschoolers in an apartment complex in the city’s Willow Park neighborhood. Residents there make only about 30% of the median average income in Aurora, according to the AHA.
Brown said YbY had been considering a mobile classroom before the pandemic but had difficulty selling the idea to its stakeholders. After Covid hit, the community embraced the idea.
To date, YbY has served 48 preschoolers with its new bus. Brown plans to add another mobile classroom by the end of summer, with the longer-term goal of serving more than 350 students in 2023.
Kimiko Jones-Webb said her 5-year-old grandson Aarius loves the mobile preschool.
“He gets excited when it’s time to go,” said Jones-Webb. “He used to get distracted around the house, but he’s interested in what the teacher has to say. We can already tell his focus and attention span are better. And he’s learning, too. He can count to 50 now, and he knows his alphabet.”
An added benefit, Jones-Webb said, is that Aarius’ mother works nights, so the preschool time allows Mom to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
The feedback Brown has received from families, as well as teachers, volunteers, community members and the AHA, has been overwhelmingly positive. That momentum has validated the organization’s decision to expand.
Brown added she’s especially grateful for that momentum because the pandemic has been troublesome for the education industry.
“Early-childhood education providers are the backbone of the economy because they enable parents to work,” she said. “But many child-care providers across the country had to close their doors since the start of Covid. They may not be able to reopen when parents need them the most.”
That challenge is another reason why Colorado’s recent advancements in early-childhood education and services are so essential, Brown said.
State of change
Brandon Gilbert, assistant professor in MSU Denver’s School of Education, has also been impressed by the state’s improvements. During his career, he has taught in Illinois and New York, and he says he thinks Colorado’s work in early-childhood education outpaces both states.
“I’m seeing a lot more resources and action being put forth in Colorado for early-childhood education,” he said. “There’s a big demand for early literacy, and Colorado is doing the right things to meet it.”
Brown, who has been in education for more than 20 years, agreed. She said Colorado is making “remarkable progress.”
“The universal preschool program will save Coloradans money and transform social and educational landscapes for local families in a more equitable and inclusive way,” she said.
And that means more of Colorado’s kids will be on the bus to a better future.