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Students plan to turn old school buses into mobile labs

An Innovation Center team is planning to breathe new life into two old school buses.

Students at St. Vrain Valley Schools are designing mini-mobile labs that can be built into two school buses, said Colin Rickman, director of communications and engagement for the district.

The Innovation Center’s AI Cyber Bus Team plans to build the mobile labs to teach students about cutting-edge STEM fields such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, Rickman explained.

“We know these are growing fields, and we know that we’re going to need to be teaching kids about this in the district … at an earlier age, instead of waiting until they’re in high school to have access to more advanced materials,” he said.

St. Vrain Valley Schools Superintendent Don Haddad came up with the idea just over a year ago, and the district’s Innovation Center began to work on the concept.

“His idea was taking these older buses — that kind of end up going end-of-life and either sitting at the back of the lot or getting wrecked — and having a student team design them into mobile labs, Rickman explained.

A handful of students put forth their ideas for the mobile labs, and they have spent this school year designing and troubleshooting their concepts, Rickman said.

“These kids are just doing incredible work,” he said. “They’re just bringing a wealth of information and experience that they all have.”

The students are also learning design skills that many STEM industries value, he explained.

“It is a skill to be able to problem-solve and get best results, and to innovate,” Rickman said.

One of the concepts for the mobile lab design, dubbed “hack the bus,” would allow students to program a computing device that can alter the bus lights and make other changes to the vehicles.

Students would also be given the opportunity to interact with artificial intelligence, robotics and computer science through educational tools in the mobile labs. Design plans also focus on teaching the importance of cybersecurity to students.

The school district already has its Mobile Innovation Lab in operation, which is fully funded by community partners. Like the current mobile lab, the converted school buses would travel around the district and beyond, but they would require less facilitation, Rickman said. Teachers would be trained on how students can use the buses, and they would sit outside each school for up to two weeks, so classrooms could visit them when convenient.

“That’s one of the ideas that the kids came up with on the team … that was an innovative idea I thought, because they understood not only the impact financially, but the impact of manpower,” he explained.

The AI Cyber Bus Team is set to present its mobile lab design — which includes a 3D model, a curriculum and a budget — to the district superintendent and other district leaders in a meeting on March 13.

If the project is approved, the Board of Education would need to decide on how to fund the bus conversions. Financial support would likely come from community sponsors, Rickman said.

Amber Fisher

About the Author: Amber Fisher

I'm thrilled to be an assistant editor with the Longmont Leader after spending the past decade reporting for news outlets across North America. When I'm not writing, you can find me snowboarding, reading fiction and running (poorly).
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