A teacher in California is redefining education during the pandemic after renovating an old bus into a ’70’s style classroom for her preschool students.
Jerilee Melo, 36, has taught preschool for four years. When the pandemic shut down her school in March 2020, she questioned what her next move would be.
“I was in a place where many people were. Just kind of stuck, didn’t know where their life was going as far as their career,” Melo told Good Morning America.
Little did Melo know, her wildest dreams were about to come true.
Several months went by and she decided to take a big leap. Melo purchased a bus on Facebook Marketplace in hopes of creating a teaching space for preschool students.
She renovated the bus in time to begin teaching her first set of preschoolers in August. Word spread in the community about her new classroom and many parents whose children she taught previously enrolled their children into her program.
The funky teaching environment has inspired an innovative approach to her teaching.
“It gives me the flexibility to bring a classroom environment seriously anywhere, because you can truly learn from everyone in your community,” Melo said. “Our community has something amazing to share.”
To keep things safe during the pandemic, she staggered her class into different times so there were never more than five children on the school bus. She and the students also wear masks. The bus remains parked and the children sometimes learn in nature.
“I realized, with the bus, I’m able to spend more time outside, because I wanted to be safe, give us a little bit more social distancing,” Melo said. “So that kind of helped in teaching in the middle of the pandemic, because it gave me room and it unleashed this part of the teaching that I was never able to do previously.”
Melo’s classroom got a surprise upgrade when she won a makeover contest. In November, she entered a competition with Brittany Jeltema, a former teacher who hosts giveaways for classroom makeovers, and was chosen as a winner.
Jeltema flew to Valencia and put a ’70s spin on the entire bus over the course of a weekend.
Melo hopes, through all of the uncertainty during these times, she inspires other teachers to get creative.
“I feel like a lot of teachers are scared right now, because they feel they need to be in a classroom to educate. And they don’t,” Melo said. “Being in a classroom isn’t all you need to be an educator….I think teachers need to expand and go beyond the classroom, because what they have is valuable.”