Youthful entrepreneurs get on the bus to their future

ADDISON COUNTY — For unsuspecting children, a school bus turned blue overnight recently.
Here, in the parking lot of the Bingham Memorial School in Cornwall, Middlebury College junior Lena Jacobs has transformed a typical, yellow school bus into a mobile classroom that will soon depart Vermont for a summer-long trip across the United States.
In its new capacity, the bus will continue to transport youngsters, only now it will take them on the first leg of a trip toward achieving their dreams.
The newly converted bus, which Jacobs purchased off of Craigslist from a seller in New Haven, Conn., is designed to encourage social entrepreneurship and intellectual risk-taking by connecting high school students with experts in graphic design, marketing, social media and more. For Jacobs, the project is a continuation of her work with The Future Project, a national campaign to empower young people to pursue their passions and bring their ideas to fruition.
The Dream Bus, as it is now known, will leave Cornwall this weekend for a months-long trip, stopping in seven major cities, including Detroit, Omaha, Denver and Los Angeles. At each location, the bus will park at the various high schools where The Future Project has already established a presence. There, the Dream Bus will provide interested high school students with the opportunity to workshop their ideas with local community members and Future Project specialists known as Dream Directors.
“When a student gets on the bus, they sit down with a Dream Director in the lounge seating area and chat through their idea,” explained Jacobs. “Then they come up to a high-top table where local community members will stand with their computers. In every city, we’re going to ask people to volunteer their time,” she added. “These people might be graphic designers who will develop a logo for your project idea, or maybe they’ll be campaign managers who are really good with social media, so they can help you figure out what your Twitter should be called and what you should be tweeting about.”
Jacobs is currently working to enlist such community volunteers for the Dream Bus.
“The bus is kind of just a liaison, bringing these (community members and high school students) together for the time being,” she said. “The important thing is that when it leaves, there are still people there to follow up with the students.”
THE COMPLETED FUTURE Project bus interior provides several work and idea areas for students and their mentors. Photo by Yeager “Teddy” Anderson
After receiving a grant from The Future Project and MiddChallenge, an ideas competition sponsored by the college, Jacobs and a team of fellow students including Brandon Gell, Morgan Raith and Josh Espy have worked tirelessly to create this unconventional learning space.
“It’s all happened really fast,” said Gell, an architecture major who has been instrumental in the bus’s transformation.
“When Brandon arrived the only thing that was in the bus was the flooring,” Jacobs said. “There was no electrical, there were no seats, it was not painted, the table didn’t exist. We hadn’t even purchased wood yet.”
But Jacobs and her team got to work, and they have not been working alone.
“The greater Middlebury area was really what built the bus,” Jacobs said. “These seemingly random, incredibly kind and helpful people have brought this project together.”
The ability to even begin the project, said Jacobs, was dependent on the Cornwall school’s principal, Abi Sessions, and her decision to give the Dream Bus a home.
“I was in a bind. The bus was supposed to be arriving in a week and I didn’t have anywhere to put it,” said Jacobs. “Principal Sessions never really had doubts about the project. She was always super helpful and supportive.”
Sessions said it wasn’t difficult to decide whether to let the Dream Bus renovation take place at her school.
“I’m always a sucker for a kid with a good idea,” she said.
Since their initial agreement, Jacobs and her team have developed a strong relationship with the elementary school’s students and faculty.
“Lena and her friends came to an all-school meeting and gave the kids a tour of the bus. They even solicited their suggestions for how to make it look like a classroom,” explained Sessions. “The kids are thinking this a really cool thing. It’s kindled their imaginations for different ways of learning.”
“The kids from Cornwall are so excited about the bus,” said Gell. “They’re always running on (the bus) and peeking in and trying to get a look.”
Other community members, too, have become involved with the bus renovation project.
“There are a lot of people in town that are really excited to help,” said Gell.
“People are donating their time or advice,” added Jacobs. “The small things like that are so kind.”
Among those local volunteers who have donated much of their time is Ben Vessa, a mechanic who works in Middlebury. Vessa helped Jacobs and her team lay the flooring for the bus weeks ago.
“I can’t wait to see what the bus looks like now,” Vessa said. “It looks like it’s going to be a really cool way of helping kids to learn.”
After its trip this summer, the Dream Bus will spend the winter in San Francisco at one of The Future Project’s partner high schools serving as an alternative classroom before heading back East next year.
“I think if it could end here, back in its home, that would be kind of cool,” said Jacobs. “I’d love for the bus to come back to Vermont.”
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENTS Lena Jacobs and Brandon Gell stand outside the completed Future Project bus they will drive across the country this summer. The mobile classroom was made possible through grants from The Future Project and MiddChallenge. Photo by Yeager “Teddy” Anderson

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