Fremont County School District No. 6 in western Wyoming is 2,481 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Delaware. The Wind River Indian Reservation, with students from the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes, takes up 61 percent of the district. In this far-flung, high-poverty region, no licensed day care programs, preschools, or medical service providers are available.
To address social and academic gaps in children showing up for kindergarten, the district started a preschool. School official knew they weren’t reaching all the children who needed services, but transportation was a major barrier to attendance. Because school funds could not be used for preschool buses, families had to drive their children to school – a hardship for many in this isolated area.
The idea to bring preschool to families stemmed from the book mobile model. The district overhauled an old school bus, painted it purple, removed the seats, and installed carpeting, furniture, and supplies. Presto! Mobile school ready for duty.
School staff made phone calls and bus drivers on rural routes suggested families with young children that could benefit from the support. The program started as a pilot in the spring of 2013 with a driver and teacher going to children’s homes. “We immediately began to find students who were well behind developmentally,” says Wind River Elementary School Principal Barney Lacock. “We got them in touch with other school services.”
The 30-minute session takes place on the bus, often with the parents in attendance, as well. Part of the mobile preschool’s mission is to create a bond between the school district and the families.
The Purple Preschool Bus has been a great success, and the district is expanding the program to include a nurse to provide health instruction and information.
In three years, the percentage of students reaching age-appropriate benchmarks has increased 12 percent. Today, 85 percent of students enter kindergarten at or above kindergarten readiness benchmarks.