Volusia County Schools has set the wheels in motion to promote STEM in its elementary schools.
At Beachside Elementary on Tuesday, Oct. 3, VCS unveiled its state-of-the-art STEM bus, a mobile learning lab that aims to help students develop their skills in science, technology, engineering and math. The bus will travel to all elementary schools in the district, as well as community STEM events, and students will get a chance to enhance their studies with modules on virtual reality, robotics, electricity, microscopes and more.
"There are a few other counties that have STEM buses, but no one has a STEM bus like us," Volusia County School Board Chair Jamie Haynes said at the unveiling.
The bus was created by the VCS Transportation department after Superintendent Carmen Balgobin proposed the idea during a cabinet meeting five months ago. Balgobin said that she and her cabinet members were discussing a bus surplus when she turned to Chief Operating Officer Earl Johnson.
"I said, 'How about a STEM lab on wheels?'" Balgobin recalled. "And he looked at me and goes, 'I'm taking notes. Tell me a little bit more.'"
She did. She also told him she wanted it for the 2023-2024 school year.
VCS Science Coordinator Jen Taylor referenced Balgobin's motto for the school year: "Achieving excellence together."
"We've all heard it loud and clear," she said. "We are all here today because she has made this her mission: Achieving excellence together. In such a very short time, what Dr. Balgobin didn't realize is, she actually gave us all what we call a stem design challenge."
VCS Transportation Director Rodney Smith said his department's goal was, not to meet Balgobin's expectations for a STEM bus, but to exceed them, and he believes they did that, thanks to help from the maintenance department.
"We're extremely proud of the product that we produced," he said.
James Towsley, an audio visual technician for the VCS transportation department, said he was very excited about the project as someone who built custom vehicles in the past.
"This was right up our alley and I thought transportation could definitely show what we could do and give back to the community," Towsley said. "This will be huge for the students, teaching them STEM and getting them interested in these things. It has huge implications for our children's future."
Balgobin said VCS has the eighth highest scores for fifth grade science in the state, and the county has a high demand for jobs in STEM.
"This lab on wheels is going to be providing our families, our parents, and our students and our teachers with the opportunity for those hands-on experiences, where they can explore and solve the world's current and future problems," Balgobin said.
The school district is hoping to add a second bus next year.
STEM Bus resource teacher and driver David Van Slyke said the bus aims to deliver a unique learning experience for students.
"With this mobile laboratory, students will have the opportunity to develop essential 21st century skills through hands-on experiences with digital microscopes, robotics, Van de Graaff generators and Tesla coils," Van Slyke said. "Our students will be empowered to think critically, solve complex problems and embrace the endless possibilities of STEM."
STEM Specialist Amy Monahan said the bus was a dream come true for her. In 2010, when STEM programs were introduced into Volusia County, there were no clear guidelines for what STEM entailed, she said.
"Today we embrace a deeper comprehension, recognizing that STEM in Volusia is standards-driven, integrated and student-centered," Monahan said.