Electric Magic Bus Brings Learning To Vail Preschoolers

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In these times of raging wildfires, economic downturns, and political uncertainty, it’s nice to step back once in a while and read a feel-good story about cleantech, isn’t it? To many communities, covid-19 presents obstacles without obvious solutions for teaching students who can’t attend school classes on site with immunity and other issues. In Colorado, however, an all-new, all-electric Magic Bus Mobile Preschool will bring learning to early-childhood communities — and do so with zero emissions. It’s an endeavor that makes us smile.

Images courtesy of Vail Valley Foundation, Winnebago, Winnebago’s Specialty Vehicle Division.

The all-electric Winnebago Industries Specialty Vehicles Magic Bus will bring school to many young children throughout a Colorado region beginning in early October. The Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 education initiative is sponsoring the free Magic Bus Mobile Preschool Program, which will provide 3-5 year olds who aren’t attending a traditional preschool with class time and parent support to successfully prepare for kindergarten.

Ensuring that critical childhood learning is available to as many children and families as possible, the Colorado community now will have an all-electric bus to join its gas-powered counterpart, so that 2 buses will make the rounds through neighborhoods.

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With 2 mobile pre-school classrooms, the program makes bi-weekly visits to 8 different communities throughout Eagle County. Classes are conducted in various neighborhoods, offering 4 hours of class time per session. Families and their Magic Bus Teacher agree on the time, days of the week, and location.

Classes are free of charge.

When the Magic Bus rolls into a neighborhood, children climb aboard for a day of learning, growth, and emotional support from teachers who have become integral parts of the local community. Through songs, read-alouds, exercise games, and vocabulary-building activities in Spanish and English, the children take the first steps in learning what it means to be learners.

YouthPower365 PwrUp Senior Manager Kendra Cowles discussed the importance of the Magic Bus to the local community.

“The Magic Bus plays a critical role in preparing them to successfully transition to school. Most parents walk their student to the bus for a quick check-in to see how the family and child are doing (and) share tidbits about class instruction or their specific child’s progress. The bus is customized to operate as a center-based preschool classroom, complete with dramatic play and kitchen areas, building blocks, and plenty of dinosaurs.”

Magic Bus Specs

The Winnebago Industries Specialty Vehicle is the first all-electric mobile preschool in the world. A mobile, licensed preschool experience, the Vail Valley Foundation’s Magic Bus is based on Winnebago Industries’ standard J33SE zero-emission commercial vehicle. It utilizes Motiv Power Systems’ all-electric EPIC Ford F-53 chassis. Summit Bodyworks was responsible for the vehicle upfit.

“We are pleased to see our all-electric vehicle platform being used to provide early childcare programs for Eagle County’s low-income families. The all-electric vehicle will enable operation in a quiet, emission-free manner,” said Robert Kim, Director of the Winnebago Industries Specialty Vehicle Division.

Available on the J38SE and J33SE Class A commercial platforms, this 100% Battery Electric Vehicle qualifies for many federal, state, and local incentives for vehicle purchase and infrastructure upgrades, including charging stations. Depending on interior energy demands, this Class A coach delivers:

  • Range: 85–125 miles (full charge)
  • Charge time: 7–8 hours — Level 2 and Level 3 charging capability
  • Sodium-Nickel technology (Safe Battery technology)
  • 24/7 remote monitoring of in-vehicle electronics and battery health
  • Based on the Ford® F53 commercial chassis
  • Onsite or local service of ZEV components
  • More than 300 Winnebago service locations for service on Winnebago components
  • Full Ford chassis warranty on remainder of Ford components
  • EPIC Chassis powered by Motiv

The Magic Bus’ light carbon footprint is a real plus.

The vehicle provides annual fuel and maintenance cost savings for the district. Significant road testing has been conducted on the vehicle that houses 6 batteries and delivers up to 125 miles on a full charge. The Magic Bus is expected to see up to 85% operation and maintenance cost savings.

Image retrieved from sec.gov

“Motiv’s mission is to free fleets from fossil fuels, so it’s encouraging to see community outreach merge with emission-free transportation to provide education to families who are unable to access brick and mortar facilities,” said Matt O’Leary, Motiv Chairman and CEO. “Equal education and clean air are two of the most important things we can provide to the next generation, and we are proud to play a part in the Vail Valley Magic School Bus project.”

Motiv has a goal of freeing fleets from fossil fuels by providing a seamless pathway to electrification. Its EV technology is Ford eQVM-approved and CARB-certified. It uses proven BMW batteries and is available for many configurations including step vans, box trucks, work trucks, shuttle buses, school buses, trolleys, and other specialty vehicles.

Why is Preschool Education on Wheels Needed?

Across the US and world, families are filled with uncertainty about covid-19-era schooling, especially for parents of preschool children. Experts agree that preparation for K-12 education is key to lasting life success, so preschool sets the foundation for years of education ahead.

In preschool, children learn to strengthen their social and emotional development. They negotiate — many for the first time — the ideas of compromise, respect, and problem-solving. Preschool provides an environment for children to explore, begin to understand their identities in relation to others, play with peers, and build self-esteem. Children learn they can accomplish tasks and make decisions without the help of their parents, exploring the world’s possibilities in a new and vital way.

Covid-19 has especially taken its toll on children from lower-income families. According to the Brookings Institute,

“These preschoolers­ — after missing months of quality pre-K — suffer from poor nutrition, rising obesity rates, and untold hours staring into television screens and digital devices. Children typically lose a month’s worth of academic skills over the summer, now further eroded by the absence of preschool.”

In an effort to prevent the spread of covid-19, YouthPower365 worked closely with Eagle County Public Health to develop new protocols including the creation of a sanitary environment, utilizing social distancing, masks, frequent hand washing, and many other techniques.

The Magic Bus offers developmentally appropriate activities that build social-emotional, language, literacy and math development using dual language instruction. Teachers on the bus utilize Teaching Strategies GOLD to assess students’ progress, develop lesson plans, and inform parents during home visitation conferences.

The program allows children to experience the importance of play and discovery while preparing for kindergarten. And they’ll also have first-hand experience with electric vehicles, which will form an impression they’ll carry with them for their entire lives.

Images courtesy of Vail Valley Foundation, Winnebago, Winnebago’s Specialty Vehicle Division.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

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