Episode 142

The Big Blue Bus of Washington Court House

June 10, 2019 | Community Engagement
Guest:Tom Bailey

In this episode, host Carole Dorn-Bell is joined by Superintendent Tom Bailey of Washington Court House City Schools. The two discuss the Big Blue Bus, a solution that his district came up with as a way to meet three goals to serve students over the summer: to feed every child, to provide enrichment and to continue to build relationships.

The creative solution is the district’s Big Blue Bus, a bus that has been converted into a food truck of sorts. It ties in with the summer food program that the United States Department of Agriculture promotes.

The Big Blue Bus runs on a set schedule, hitting four areas of town every weekday. With a full kitchen for hot entrees plus coolers for milk, the bus serves healthy food that kids otherwise wouldn’t be getting. Many children throughout the district had been going home and eating either nothing at all or processed foods. Tom says the bus has been a key initiative for such a district, where close to 60% of the 2,200 students qualify for free and reduced meals.

There is no requirement on grade or socioeconomic factor—all children can get free lunch from the Big Blue Bus.

On the first day they had 100 kids and, on the second, it was double that. The goal by the end of the summer is to have more than 1,000 students getting free lunch every day.

“It’s just been a wonderful addition to our community,” Tom says. “The community response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

And the Big Blue Bus has accomplished much more than just food security for the children of the school district.

There is also an academic enrichment component, as the bus provides books that students are able to take with them and bring back later when they are finished. There is also free WiFi on the bus.

Tom tells Carole about how they are partnering with varsity athletic teams for Workout Wednesdays. Athletes bring games, water balloons, hula hoops and other activities to play and interact with the kids. Other days of the week are being programmed, too, such as an emphasis on STEM learning on Thursdays.

“The great thing is, this is costing the district virtually no money in terms of general fund tax payer dollars,” Tom says, noting the community stepped up in a big way. “We went out to the community and sold this to businesses and churches, and we got financial commitment to pay for the bus and the renovation of the bus, 100% in full, which was a blessing for us.”

The district has always been financially conservative so the arrangement is ideal, Tom says.

Tom tells Carole that the Big Blue Bus is one part of broader culture change throughout the district. There has been a jump in test scores, stronger athletics programs and many more clubs added. He talks about the Blue Lion Block Party and a district-wide pep rally.

“We’re just seeing a lot more teamwork from our administrators, a lot more teamwork from our teachers,” he says, “It is not change for the sake of change, but to make life better for the children. That’s what we stay focused on.”

Photo courtesy of the Washington Court House City Schools Facebook page.

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