Mobile Early Learning Program Drives Preschoolers in Right Direction
In the mornings, Charron Logan takes her son to a bus parked by her neighborhood in Aurora. A fresh coat of blue paint envelops the outside, and inside, a one-of-a-kind preschool pushes the boundaries of conventional learning.
Kristopher Tetzlaff, a current PhD student in the Morgridge College of Education, is a co-founder of You be You Early Learning, Colorado’s first and only nonprofit mobile preschool. The teacher-led cooperative, which serves students ages three to five, is free and focuses on project-based learning and inclusion. Tetzlaff, a teacher with nearly 20 years of experience, says the traditional education system does not serve all students.
“It appears that the educational system in the United States is being financialized,” Tetzlaff says. “We see the commoditization of students. And we really wanted to create a system of education that was more inclusive, that values diversity and is rooted in justice.”
Tetzlaff and his colleagues banded together in search of a better way. After noticing an abundance of early childhood education (ECE) deserts in Colorado, places without affordable and equitable access to ECE programming, they decided to bring school to local communities.
In 2019, Tetzlaff and You be You executive director Roya Brown bought a library bus from a private vendor in Ohio. Once the bus arrived in Colorado, the team got to work. They retrofitted the bus, adding a bathroom, Wi-Fi and even a small library.
You be You serves the greater Denver metro area in partnership with the Aurora Housing Authority. The nonprofit has two mobile preschools – the converted library bus, which serves the Willow Park community and a converted RV, which serves the Peoria Crossing area. You be You is looking to open its next mobile preschool in Montbello.
“We’re working to eliminate cost, transportation and access barriers for communities in need,” Tetzlaff says. “It’s as simple as walking out of their door and crossing a parking lot.”
That accessibility, he says, is key to having families feel connected.
“Families are always invited to share their culture, their treasures. We have families bring in food. Parents will come in and teach the class, including teachers and volunteers, different words and expressions in their home language,” Tetzlaff says.
With the community-focused, family-driven mission, the impact of the mobile preschool is far-reaching. Logan, who started volunteering on her son’s field trips, is now a teacher at the co-op.
“As a parent, I’ve always used life experiences to teach,” Logan says. “[Teaching] is completely different. You learn more about the holistic framework, so the resources are there, the teamwork and the partnership are amazing.”
Logan has always been involved in her kids’ schooling, but this is different. Logan has become a resource, a friend and an educator.
“She has earned her early childhood teacher credential, which is remarkable. Last year at the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference, she was a nominee for a first-year teaching award because of her teaching, volunteerism, her dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion as well as her pivotal role in being a co-researcher for this community-based research endeavor that we’re conducting with the Center for Community Engagement to Advance Scholarship and Learning at DU,” Tetzlaff says.
With the school’s small class size, teachers can give students and parents individualized attention. Those relationships extend outside the classroom and into the community.
“They know me. They know where I’m going to be. They know that even if their children don’t attend they can contact me and reach out for resources. If there is something going on, we can help,” she says.
This model is working. And others are starting to notice.
This year, You be You Early Learning received a Community Innovation and Resilience for Care and Learning Equity grant from Early Milestones Colorado, a nonprofit focused on advancing success for young children. The mobile preschool also received an award from the City of Aurora, a DEI award for the organization’s work with inclusion and innovation in early childhood education.