One California teacher is saying goodbye to traditional classrooms and teaching her preschool students out of a groovy renovated '70’s style bus.
Jerilee Melo, 36, has been teaching preschool for four years. When COVID-19 shut down her school in March 2020, she began to wonder what her next career move would be.
“I was in a place where many people were just kind of stuck, didn't know where their life was going as far as their career,” Melo said.
After several months, Melo decided to take a risk. She found a bus on Facebook Marketplace and decided to purchase it in hopes of setting up her own teaching space for preschool students.
"I found a bus because, like many people, we were emotional shopping. I'm going to emotionally shop, and I came up with a bus," Melo joked.
Melo renovated the bus and in August began teaching her first set of preschoolers, many whom were her students in previous classrooms. Melo doesn’t move the bus during her lessons, but rather parks it at a certain location and allows it to serve as a mobile classroom that utilizes their surroundings.
"It gives me the flexibility to bring a classroom environment seriously anywhere, because you can truly learn from everyone in your community," Melo said. "Our community has something amazing to share."
To keep things safe during the pandemic, Melo staggered her class into her different times so there were never more than five children on the school bus. She and the students wore masks, and she found ways to get creative and teach in a safe way.
“I realized, with the bus, I'm able to spend more time outside, because I wanted to be safe, give us a little bit more social distancing,” Melo said. “So that kind of helped in teaching in the middle of the pandemic, because it gave me room and it unleashed this part of the teaching that I was never able to do previously.”
While her bus was renovated for teaching, Melo hadn’t been able to get around to decorating for her students. In November she decided to enter a contest with Brittany Jeltema, a former teacher who now hosts giveaways for classroom makeovers through her Instagram @thesuperheroteacher. Much to Melo’s surprise, Jeltema reached out telling her she won the contest.
“Jeri’s application instantly stood out to me, because it was such a unique and innovative approach to education, and I knew I wanted to help her achieve her dream of having a mobile school,” Jeltema said. “Jeri submitted pictures of her bus before the makeover, and my brain lit up with ideas. I knew I could help her create an engaging environment for her students.”
Over the course of a weekend, Jeltema and her team flew to Valencia, California, and transformed Melo’s mobile classroom into a '70’s dream.
“It’s just really heartwarming that she was able to take the time to do that for me,” Melo said.
With her bus, Melo hopes to inspire other teachers to get creative during these unprecedented times.
“I feel like a lot of teachers are scared right now, because they feel they need to be in a classroom to educate. And they don't,” Melo said. “Being in a classroom isn't all you need to be an educator. ... I think teachers need to expand and go beyond the classroom, because what they have is valuable.”