Lena Jacobs ‘17.5 and Brandon Gell ’16, prior to the Dream Bus’s launch.
Not long ago, it would have appeared like any old yellow school bus. But over the course of the months of May and June, it has transformed into something much more intriguing. It’s called the Dream Bus, and recently, it set off on a cross-country journey to spread resources and creativity to thousands of high school students in major U.S. cities.
Prior to its departure, Lena Jacobs ’17.5 had been hard at work at the bus’s renovation. During her spring semester, she obtained funding for the project from a number of different sources, including a grant from MiddChallenge. Applying in the Social Entrepreneurship category, her drive and enthusiasm were clear during her presentation. “It was wonderful to see a pitch that involved extensive background and connection with the community where the impact was envisioned,” said CSE Associate Director Heather Neuwirth, who was in attendance for the proposal. Jacobs would go on to finish MiddChallenge as one of three winners in the Social Entrepreneurship field, and was awarded a $3000 grant towards the bus’s makeover and operation.
Then at the semester’s conclusion, Jacobs gathered together a team from the surrounding area, contacting specialists in everything from upholstery to mechanical repair. “The involvement of other Middlebury College students from a variety of different disciplines and the outreach to the larger Addison County community led Jacobs’ team to be a strong and innovative coalition,” said Charlie MacCormack, Executive in Residence at the College and a member of this year’s MiddChallenge panel.
With this wide array of students and community members, Jacobs set to work on everything from installing the bus’s bamboo flooring to tuning up its engine. With all of this work and attention, the old yellow bus has given way into a new, bright conference room-meets-mobile classroom. Seating, tables, wood paneling and outlets mark the bus’s clean, functional aesthetic. It’s been a remarkable transformation in a remarkably short amount of time.
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But Jacobs’ Dream Bus mission dates back farther than her purchase of the old yellow bus (which, by the way, she found thanks to a Craigslist listing). The renovation is an outgrowth of the work of The Future Project, which Jacobs has been involved with in New York City since 2012.
With a presence in schools in several major metropolitan areas, the Future Project is an educational non-profit that seeks to foster creativity, passion and purpose in the lives of America’s youth. The Project focuses on re-introducing passion and inspiration back into academic environments, “changing the way that disengaged students view their schools,” explains Jacobs. Coaching, workshops and events are the Future Project’s primary tools.
Into each of its partner schools, the Project typically embeds ‘Dream Directors’, who work alongside students and administrators. These partnerships endeavor to bring “life and passion back into the classroom, which is often lost for students who have become uninterested in school,” says Jacobs.
Now, however, it’s up to Jacobs to take these goals out of the classroom and onto the road, as she drives the Dream Bus across the country this summer. She and the bus will stop in cities partnered with The Future Project, with the bus’s space serving as a meeting place between students and various professionals offering assistance to student ideas. Armed with vision, gumption and a little bit of luck, Jacobs and The Future Project are hoping to spark lasting traditions of innovation in each of the school communities that the Bus pulls up to.
The Dream Bus has already stopped in New York City, and will continue its tour in Washington, DC beginning on the 13th of July. The tour will conclude in Los Angeles, where it will be stopping to partake in the Special Olympics on July 24th.
For more information on the Future Project, visit their website here.
To follow the Dream Bus’s progress across the country, visit the newly launched DreamBus.org here.
Lena Jacobs and the Middlebury CSE would like to extend a thank you to all those who helped get the Dream Bus off the ground and onto the road, including Brandon Gell ’16, Morgan Raith ’16.5, and Josh Espy ’17; Ben Vessa of The Right Fix; All of the employees at NAPA Auto Parts in Middlebury; Principal Abi Sessions of Cornwall Elementary; and Gail Burkholder of Mark’s Upholstery. Thank you all for your efforts and support.
All photographs by Yeager Anderson Photography.