In 2011, one percent of eligible Latino preschoolers in the Roaring Fork Valley were enrolled in school. Parents said one of the main reasons was transportation.
That is according to Valley Settlement, an organization working with Latino families in the Roaring Fork Valley. It decided if these children cannot get to preschool, the organization will bring the preschool to them by putting the school on wheels.
Seven preschoolers sit in a circle around their teacher, singing 'The Wheels On The Bus.' Their classroom is filled with bright blue carpet, accented with different colored crayons and letters. Fresh finger paintings hang on the windows and the walls are hidden by bookshelves, easles and dress up stations.
The El Busesito, or Little Bus, Preschool is a bilingual preschool that looks like any other classroom, but it is on a bus.
"We're a school on wheels," Faridhe Rodriguez, the director for the El Busesito Preschool, said. "We have three buses that serve kids for five hours a week, and have a total of 96 families that we serve."
When Valley Settlement interviewed over 300 families in 2011-2012, it saw an overwhelming need for access to affordable and nearby preschool.
"We really wanted a way to access some of the more isolated communities," Sally Boughton, the communications and developmental associate for the organization, said.
Each year, buses are placed in strategic locations throughout 12 different neighborhoods so each family, at no cost, can easily walk their child to school.
"We're able to move our class to different neighborhoods as demand changes," Boughton said. "As people move up or down the valley, as neighborhood demographics change, we're able to respond to that and still bring that preschool right to families."
Students file onto the colorful school bus twice a week, for two-and-a-half hours a day. The mobile preschool is just like any other class: start with freetime, transition to circle time, work on letter and number of the day, and end the day with a book, arts and crafts and recess.
Rodriguez may now direct the preschool program, but she was once a teacher on the buses.
"It's very cozy, but it's hard sometimes," Rodriguez said. "But it's so cute, it's so beautiful in there, so it's worth it, but at first it's hard to get used to the small space."
Each classroom has eight students and two teachers. Currently, every teacher is a Latina woman. Rodriguez said when students see people in leadership positions who look like them, it helps them feel represented from a young age.
"I wish I would have had that growing up. I didn’t have any teacher’s that looked liked me," Rodriguez said. "I wanted to have a familiar face. It was scary to be in a school when you didn't speak english, when nobody looked like you."
The preschoolers are not the only ones benefiting from El Busesito .
The program works to help parents engage in their child’s education, and Valley Settlement tries to create a safe space for families within the El Busesito preschool.
"It’s definitely a scary time...We first hand know what the community need because our parents lived it, we live it, so I think it’s important that we have a different connection," Rodriguez said.
She said that is the mission of Valley Settlement: to support famlies and to connect them with the community.
"With El Busesito, you also have a family support team," Rodriguez said. "We don’t want them to just learn about their child’s development for two years, we want them to know about their community and where to go if they ever need anything and we’re not there."
It’s nearing the end of the school day for the El Busesito students in Carbondale. Students are scattered in front of the town recreation center, some playing with bouncy balls, others circled around a colorful tent lifting it up and down in the wind.
They will stay here for the rest of the school year, but the needs of student’s families may change next year and the school would be parked somewhere else.
But that’s the beauty of having a preschool on wheels.