The Johnson City Public Schools Foundation has worked to raise about $105,000 over the past year to fund the STEAM Bus, a mobile module station allowing district students to engage in hands-on activities in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
The foundation unveiled its new STEAM Bus Thursday evening at The Mall at Johnson City, allowing teachers, parents, students and members of the local community to check out the modules.
“Because of our community — businesses, the school system, the foundation and individuals — this bus is getting ready to roll. We wanted to make this event one that everyone can enjoy as a way to thank all our supporters," Johnson City Public Schools Foundation President Amy Stover said ahead of Thursday’s unveiling.
The retrofitted bus will now be used primarily by third and fourth-graders from eight schools in the local system. Lesson modules on the STEAM Bus include activities with renewable energy, crime forensics, roller coasters, robotics, biology, alternative energy sources and more.
“This was (Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Instructional Technology) Dr. David Timbs’ idea. He had heard of one of these buses where you take the lessons to the children, so he approached the foundation with that idea and we loved it,” Stover said. “After a year ago today, we are rolling ours out.”
Stover said the STEAM Bus was also partly inspired by the Johnson City Schools’ Bookmobile, which travels the district to give students access to free books.
“It's kind of the same idea, but one that we can use to deliver specialized lessons in the STEAM subjects,” she said.
Maria Elrod, the STEAM Bus assistant who will oversee and set up the lessons, said the STEAM Bus was a perfect way to refurbish and “give new life” to a retired bus that previously had no use for the district. Complete with solar-powered lights and air-conditioning funded by BrightRidge, she said the bus itself — designed and painted with the help of technical students at Science Hill High School — could teach students more about alternative energy sources.
“It’s all tied into science and trying to get the students to see the value in it,” she said.
On Sept. 10, students at South Side Elementary will be the first to experience the modules on the STEAM Bus, starting with projects that include building robotic hands, math projects that teach students how to run businesses and even projects that aim to inspire students to think of ways to respond to natural disasters.