A moving experience: Pulaski preschool unveils mobile classroom

Apr. 26—Sometimes, the classroom just has to come to you.

That's the principle behind Pulaski County School's brand new mobile classroom, set up to help parents understand the importance of a preschool education for youngsters — and to bring them exciting tools and games in which to learn.

The concept came from Amy Smith, the principal of Memorial Education Center and preschool coordinator for Pulaski County Schools.

After securing an Early Learning Bus Grant for After-School and Summer Programs from the Kentucky Department of Education, Smith set to work decking out a Class C RV — not a bus, as that wouldn't have fit her needs as well — and turning it into a mobile classroom that can entertain children of many ages.

The mobile classroom has already been out and about at a few weekend events, and Smith said it was utilized by children as young as 1 year old and as old as being in fifth grade.

The inspiration for the classroom, she said, was to be able to serve children during times they are not in school to continue their education.

That's why the mobile classroom is ideal to be taken out during community events.

"The way we broke down the inside allows us to provide what we call learning centers for the students that we're going to work with, either in a summer program, an after school program or during the weekends at events," she said.

The grant, one of 18 awarded to districts around the state, helped to fund almost everything except the purchase of the RV itself. It allowed for the vehicle to be wrapped — with a fun, outdoorsy design put on by Southern Kentucky Wraps — the startup costs for the unit and the staffing for it through September.

After that time, the Pulaski district will be responsible for the staffing of it, but Smith said there is already a plan in place for that.

The vehicle came equipped with an awning, generator, heating and air conditioning, a working stove and slide to extend the interior, all items that would not have been found on the bus, Smith pointed out.

Plus, it has ample storage areas both inside and out in order to haul all of the classroom equipment around.

Under the awning, Smith and her crew can set up outdoor activity areas that work on math and motor skills.

Inside, there's room for kids to play with blocks, a place to work on math and reading skills and an art area with materials and an easel that can be pulled outside, "depending on whether it's clean art or messy art," Smith said.

The RV's shower has been transformed into a sensory area, complete with gel mats, lights and other tactile activities.

Plus, plans are in motion to transform the bedroom area into a reading nook and "puppet area."

Smith noted that while the mobile classroom is aimed toward kids, it could also be useful in the future for holding workshops for their parents, such as food nutrition information, especially since the kitchen appliances have be left in tact.

"We can work with families on how to do nutritional meals and teach them about growing food. I'm going to be starting a little raised-bed garden on our playground area for our kids, so we want to carry that over into our community as well," Smith said.

The mobile classroom has already earned high marks from the children who have explored it, she said. It has also gained the praise of Pulaski County Superintendent Patrick Richardson.

"Mrs. Smith does an excellent job at Memorial Preschool. She and her staff work very hard and think outside the box when it comes to addressing the needs of the students," Richardson said. "The mobile classroom is another example of that work ethic. The mobile classroom will make it possible to get out into the community to serve our students. I am very excited about the new opportunities it will allow."

Smith sees it as an opportunity to both teach students and give their parents new educational tools, some of which they may not know about.

"I do feel like once people see what we can do and how we can reach students, whether we go to child care facilities or whether we go to different events, I do feel like (the parents are) going to be more apt to say 'Yes, my child needs to be exposed to that,'" she said.

Carla Slavey can be reached at cslavey@somerset-kentucky.com