Bus becomes a mobile STEAM lab

Jun. 7—HIGH POINT — A school bus has been converted in a makerspace to be a mobile lab visiting Guilford County middle schools, and it will get its first full use this summer in High Point.

Shift_ed, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve students' career and technical education, and Forge Greensboro plan for the bus, which they are calling the Mobile Innovation Lab, to be stocked with projects that allow students to get hands-on experience careers in STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.

The bus will visit each school once a week for eight weeks, said shift — ed President and CEO Wendey Poteat.

"The assessments that we do for every middle school student in the county year over year — it shows that we don't really have a talent gap. The students have the talent, what they actually have is an exposure gap," Poteat said. "We want to get the Mobile Innovation Lab in the places where students need the most support."

Thomas Built Buses donated the bus in 2020, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the project. Carolina Thomas in Greensboro upfit the bus to make it into a mobile classroom.

The Mobile Innovation Lab has been in the works for almost three years. In creating its curriculum, shift_ed partnered with D-UP, a High Point-based organization focused on improving the health of youths in Guilford County. Poteat said last year, D-UP members came to Forge Greensboro to test an activity in which they could build their own Bluetooth speakers that connect to Wi-Fi.

The six-week program allowed D-UP's children to express themselves creatively, D-UP Executive Director Jakkie Davis said.

"This is an opportunity for them to come in and just imagine what they can create with their hands because it is hands-on," Davis said. "It builds the confidence and the hard skills that they would need for a lifetime."

This summer, the bus will come to D-UP for the youths to experience the full curriculum that has been created, Poteat said. That also will help shift_ed understand the effectiveness of the program.

"For us, it's really about partnership," Poteat said. "We always want to make sure that what we're doing is evidence-based, and that we're filling some sort of gap for the school district."

Davis said having the Mobile Innovation Lab come to D-UP allows the students to be able to participate in activities that they previously would have had to travel to Greensboro for.

"It's great for our students to have that hands-on experience, especially with this," Davis said. "For us to have this here, it's just phenomenal, and it not only helps the students, but it definitely helps a grassroots organization."

Poteat said shift_ed is still working with Guilford County Schools to decide which middle schools will participate in the upcoming school year, but she wants to expand to include elementary and high schools in the future.

"The more hands-on you can be with students, the more that hope is instilled in them — that they can be anything that they want to be and opening up the exposure opportunities," Poteat said. "The next goal would be, 'How do we get another bus on the road?'"