04/02/07 — New program will take county preschool classes on the road

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New program will take county preschool classes on the road

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 2, 2007 1:45 PM

A yellow school bus is being converted into a classroom that will travel around the county and help preschoolers get a running start on their education, officials say.

Wee Wings, the mobile preschool classroom being offered through Wayne County Public Schools, is expected to motor into neighborhoods soon.

The new program is being made possible through the collaboration of such educational departments as exceptional children, Title I, maintenance and transportation, as well as several community agencies.

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base also signed on, said Dr. Marlee Ray, director of instructional support services, prompting the name, "Wee Wings."

Dr. Ray recently explained the program to the school board, calling it an extension of current preschool offerings already in place. Among those, she noted, are 28 More at Four classrooms through day cares, 10 in public schools; Edgewood Community Developmental School, which serves 78 children in its half-day preschool classes; and an itinerant preschool program catering to those in homes, day cares and Head Start.

There is always the need for more, she added. Research shows that early education makes a huge difference in child development, and children who come to school ready to learn have long-term success.

With that in mind, Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor spearheaded an effort toward providing a program targeting 3- and 4-year-olds not otherwise being served, Dr. Ray said.

Officials investigated what other districts across the state were doing to meet this need, which is how they discovered two counties having success with the mobile classroom idea.

Nancy Reyes will be the teacher for the Wayne County bus, with Barbie Gurley as her instructional assistant.

Since January, maintenance and transportation staff have been working to retrofit the bus into a preschool classroom. Dr. Ray said they anticipate being able to officially launch the program in the next few weeks.

"They gutted the entire bus, put in walls and electricity, designed and built it -- including paint and carpeting, electricity, a working toilet, running water, air conditioning and heat," she explained. "We have not only made it our own, we made it better."

A generator will be used to operate it.

"Everything locks down when they travel. When they get to the site, the bus turns off and they can set up the tables and everything they'll need."

Several sites have already been chosen --Spring Creek High, Mount Olive Middle and Brogden Middle schools, as well as the Wayne County Public Library. Eligible children will attend classes two days a week, Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, for one hour and 45 minutes.

The program follows the county schools' calendar and children must be at least 3 years old by Oct. 26, Dr. Ray said.

"We are targeting those families who want to keep their children in their homes," Dr. Ray explained. "This is going to an hour and 45 minutes of intense academic, language-based programming."

Several have already enrolled, she noted.

"We have already been going out to schools, doing screenings on children, doing home visits," Ms. Gurley said. She said she had also attended parent groups and Title I meetings to spread the word about the new educational opportunity.

The school system is currently accepting applications for the program by calling 705-6027 or contacting the individual sites.

"One bus can serve 72 children," Dr. Ray said. "We can deliver to any area of the county, can serve in their home community, for those typically not being served in other programs. We have a high need, especially for those staying with a grandmother or aunt in their home."

Once the finishing touches are made on the big yellow school bus, Wee Wings will be ready to fly, she said.

"We're very excited, we're ready to go," Ms. Gurley said. "I'm just ready to jump into it and say, let's do it."

And hopefully, it is just the beginning. Down the road, Dr. Ray said she can envision adding to the fleet of classrooms.

"We have already collaborated with the Partnership for Children. They're submitting an activity to replicate and develop a second bus," she said. "This is the prototype we're going to use. I'd eventually like to see three or four more across the county. That would allow us to serve all areas all across the county."