The American School Board Journal has announced the recipients of the 2003 Magna Awards for advancing student learning through school board leadership. The unlikely grand prize winners: BUST'R and BETSIE, two refurbished school buses that serve as mobile pre-K classrooms in rural Burke County, N.C.
Since January of 2001, BUST'R, BETSIE, and an enthusiastic quartet of teachers have been hard at work touring mobile-home communities and church parking lots, helping youngsters through an innovative pre-K curriculum.
"If they can't come to us, why can't we go to them?" says Superintendent David Burleson of the underserved 3- and 4-year-olds in Burke County. "We want our kids arriving for kindergarten on a level playing field, but they don't all have the chance."
The idea behind the award-winning "Rolling with Pre-K" program evolved into a collaborative effort between school-district officials and community partners.
"We saw the McSmiles [day-care] program in a neighboring community bringing supplemental services to those in need and figured we could do something similar and bring a pre-K program to communities that didn't have one," Mr. Burleson says.
The buses, BUST'R (Building Upon Strength Through Reading) and BETSIE (Bringing Everyone Technological Success in Education) were remodeled by a local high school woodshop class and then outfitted with generators, toilets, and donated laptop computers. Each bus serves six sites in Burke County, and the teachers conduct 90-minute instructional sessions twice a week.
"You wouldn't believe how excited the kids are when they tell their friends they literally go to school on a bus," teacher Rhonda Pearson says. "They complain we only come twice a week."
The program has already served more than 400 children.
"We've got parents involved and meeting as part of an advisory group.... We are doing more home visits than we expected - all [of these] are positive surprises," Burleson says.
As word of the program spreads, says Burleson, BUST'R and BETSIE are having trouble meeting the high demand. "In a perfect world, we'd have enough buses so that we didn't have to have a waiting list," he says.
The Burke County program and this year's other Magna Award winners were honored Monday at the National School Boards Association's annual conference in San Francisco.