How a classroom on wheels is expanding access to early education

AMNA NAWAZ: Preschool can provide children
with a solid and lasting foundation for success later in life, but fewer than half of all
4-year-olds in the U.S., just 43 percent, have access to a public preschool, and that
rate varies by state. Some rural or low-income areas have no option
at all. One community outside Denver, Colorado, has
found an innovative way to bring education to students, with a classroom on wheels. We visited the mobile preschool at the end
of the school year in May to see the impact it's having on the kids and families it serves. It's part of our education series, Making
the Grade. ASHLEY PARKE, Parent: Ready? AMNA NAWAZ: Most weekday mornings for Ashley
Parke and her son, Clinton, begin the same way ASHLEY PARKE: All right, I will be back, guys. AMNA NAWAZ: With a short walk to the school
bus. ASHLEY PARKE: And let's go. CHILD: And then we got to go left. ASHLEY PARKE: Left. That's right. AMNA NAWAZ: But this bus won't bring Clinton
to school. It is the school. Retrofitted into a classroom, and parked in
this Thornton, Colorado, mobile home community, this shuttle bus is the only viable child
care option for some young children like Clinton. If the bus wasn't here, would he be in another
school program? ASHLEY PARKE: Probably not. AMNA NAWAZ: Why not? ASHLEY PARKE: Because it's expensive. I don't know that we could afford to send
him to another preschool program. AMNA NAWAZ: The school on wheels sets up each
morning beside this park. Eight children, ages 3 to 6, attend the morning
session. Most speak Spanish at home. This community is over 90 percent Latino. Teachers Allie Davis and Christy Feller lead
them through their day, with attendance, songs, and a weather report. Who's excited to come to school every day? Raise your hand. Everyone's excited? Why are you excited? Why do you like school? CHILD: Because we can do (INAUDIBLE). And there's a park. AMNA NAWAZ: While the students head to recess
in the park, Davis shows us how they fit an entire classroom into a small space. ALLIE DAVIS, Teacher, Right on Learning: We
have little chairs that pull out here, as well as a math cabinet. AMNA NAWAZ: You have to stay very organized. ALLIE DAVIS: Yes, everything has a space. AMNA NAWAZ: The bus was a labor of love for
Alexa Garrido and Rany Elissa, a husband-and-wife team who first spent years building a tutoring
business. They worked in over a dozen school districts
across Colorado, but often struggled to find space. ALEXA GARRIDO, Co-Founder, Right on Learning:
The libraries were always full. The rec centers were not spaces we could use. So, because we were doing that, we had decided,
well, we will make it mobile AMNA NAWAZ: They saw a need, they say, to
offer education early in a child's life to address education gaps they were trying to
close later in middle or high school. RANY ELISSA, Co-Founder, Right on Learning:
We're looking for communities that have a need. So it's going to be generally your lower-income
areas or areas that do not have access to preschool. And also, if cost or transportation is a barrier
to them, this is where we work with the communities and schools. We can identify those areas. AMNA NAWAZ: Using their own money, and some
profits from their tutoring business, they bought the bus at auction, gutted it, and
outfitted it with all the amenities of a modern classroom, a smartboard, air conditioning,
and a bathroom. But they needed support from the city and
permits to park the bus. They found both with the help of Daniel Dick,
the mayor of neighboring Federal Heights, Colorado. DANIEL DICK, Mayor of Federal Heights, Colorado:
It is a city with great difficulties, limited opportunity for employment. Many of them have language issues. So we start with the difficult, and have to
figure out ways to raise that level. And the best way to do it is to provide for
a better future for our children. It's critical, because it will make the entire
difference in whether they're successful or if they will fall through the cracks. AMNA NAWAZ: Data actually, here in Adams County,
many communities live in so-called child care deserts. That's places where the number of preschool-age
children far exceeds the number of available child care slots. Studies are mixed on whether preschool gives
a lasting academic edge. But reliable child care provides benefits
that extend beyond tests and report cards. KATIE HAMM, Center for American Progress:
A lot of that traces back to something we call executive functioning. AMNA NAWAZ: Katie Hamm is the vice president
of early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress. KATIE HAMM: Children are learning really critical
socio-emotional skills during this time, and that includes things like self-regulation,
learning what behaviors are appropriate. AMNA NAWAZ: Ashley Parke says preschool has
already made a difference in how Clinton navigates the world. ASHLEY PARKE: He's learning to use his voice,
like, don't do that, I don't like that, or can we play, or just learning, hey, what's
your name? Do you want to be my friend? Like, kids don't know those things. And he's learning a lot of the social stuff
here. AMNA NAWAZ: Experts like Hamm agree the gold
standard is a full day of preschool, longer than the half-day sessions kids attend on
the bus. KATIE HAMM: If we want preschool to realize
its full potential, we need to invest in those programs that are high-quality and full-day. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't start
somewhere. If you have communities that are isolated,
that aren't receiving any type of preschool, starting a part-day program is certainly a
value add. AMNA NAWAZ: In the afternoons, the bus parks
in a second location, for another session with eight more children. The older kids will go on to kindergarten
in the fall. The younger ones will return for another year
of preschool on wheels. Meanwhile, Rany Elissa and Alexa Garrido have
purchased a second bus, which they hope to roll out in metro Denver before the next school
year. ALEXA GARRIDO: We have got parents that have
conversations with us about how great it was, right, the experience, to have what they had
here, and be able to go to kindergarten, but also to be able to come back to us for support
for their kids if they still need it in the elementary schools. Our hope is we can see them as they grow,
right, for however long that they're here in the communities, that we will be able to
be a part of their life, and that they really want to come back. AMNA NAWAZ: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna
Nawaz in Adams County, Colorado.

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