Busing the digital divide

Estella Pyfrom’s beginnings weren’t promising. She and her family hit the East Coast roads to follow the harvests, and often slept in barns. But with determined parents, she finished school, got a master’s and worked at the Palm Beach County School District for 50 years.

Today, in her second career, she’s enjoying national media attention by having created an unusual approach to bridging the digital divide. In 2011, Estella put her considerable life savings into a bus, which evolved into a mobile computer lab, and which she called Estella's Brilliant Bus.

Ultimately costing nearly a million dollars, the bus is a familiar tour-style coach outfitted now with 17 computer stations, all connected to the Internet by a high-speed satellite connection. She and her team set up at various locations in South Florida where they provide a variety of programs. According to a story on CNN:

“Pyfrom and her army of volunteers 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.”

In addition, the may hold open computer labs, and often encourage parents to attend along with their children, benefiting from the open and encouraging atmosphere.

But it’s school-age children who get the most out of the bus experiment because Estella – with her extensive background in public education – has managed to coordinate the computer teaching with school curriculum. A local newspaper described it this way:

“These computers are loaded with educational software that measures progress, links up with state-mandated curriculum material, readies the kids for FCAT testing and tracks their progress against their own scores and those of every other student in the state.”

Estella Pyfrom has undertaken an ambitious goal, but along the way she’s picked up allies and benefactors – as well as a raft of positive publicity. According to the Brilliant Bus website, the project’s mission is “to create a network of opportunities that will provide educational training, and self-help experiences in underserved areas that will empower children and families with lifelong learning and access to technology while partnering with community agencies.”

Estella may be in the driver’s seat, but this bus seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Estella’s Brilliant Bus (website)

'Brilliant Bus' shrinking digital divide (CNN, April 4, 2013)

All aboard Miss Estella’s Brilliant Bus (Palm Beach Post, Feb. 9, 2013)

Estella’s Brilliant Bus, mission statement (website)