Five years ago, Estella Pyfrom, a guidance counselor in Palm Beach, Florida was disturbed to find that children in the area were graduating with little or no computer skills. Upon investigation, she realized that these students had very little access to computers after school hours as their parents, due to the recession, couldn’t afford the technology.
“They needed food. They needed to pay their mortgage or their rent,” said Pyfrom, a former teacher. “Some of them lost their cars. So I knew it was a serious problem.”
According to the Institute of the Study of Labor, students who lack access to a home computer are less likely to graduate high school. Pyfrom feared that many of these kids would get left behind if they did not have a computer at home, or reliable transportation to get to one. Determined to help poor children get the same educational opportunities as other children, she bought a bus with her own savings, filled it with computers and brought technology to the kids. Her mobile computer lab, Estella’s Brilliant Bus, has provided free, computer-based tutoring for thousands of students since 2011.
“If people don’t have some knowledge of technology, they’re going to be limited. It’s absolutely essential that they get involved technologically, insists Pyfrom.”
Pyfrom’s custom-designed bus is outfitted with 17 computer stations that are connected to high-speed Internet via satellite. The bus travels to schools, shelters and community centers throughout the county. Pyfrom and her army of volunteers provide about 8,000 hours of instruction to at least 500 children a year. They hold regular classes and tutoring sessions about four days a week. They offer lessons in computer and Internet basics as well as reading, math or science classes that supplement what children are learning in school. Sometimes, the bus simply serves as an open computer lab.
“We serve children starting with age 3 all the way through senior citizens, based on what the needs are,” Pyfrom said. The computers are loaded with educational software, providing interactive exercises that reinforce state-mandated curricula. Children receive their own account login and password, allowing them to continue their work from anywhere they can access the Internet. Users can only advance to the next level in a subject once they reach 90% proficiency in the current one, and the software allows Pyfrom to track their progress.
For older students, the bus brings GED and college preparatory assistance, anti-bullying and peer mediation classes, and student leadership training. Adults receive online banking tutorials, resume assistance and help searching for jobs and affordable housing.
“We are bringing the learning and the technology to the neighborhoods. They all can benefit from that,” says Pyfrom. She is determined to see her services expand throughout the state, even the country and estimates she has enough savings to keep her bus running for another two years, but hopes to find financial support before she runs out of money.