Lou Quinlan reads to Michaela Weeks, 7, while she sits on a school bus outside her home in Hutto, Texas. The bus was made available by the Hutto Independent School District to provide face-to-face learning to students with diverse needs during the coronavirus pandemic. (Bronte Wittpenn / Austin American-Statesman / TNS)
AUSTIN, Texas – Michaela Weeks, 7, just needs to walk outside her front door in Hutto to go to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Once a week she gets on a bus parked in front of her house.
The Hutto School District sends one of its buses to 20 special school students, including Weeks, every week to ensure they get an individual lesson with a teacher.
One morning, Weeks was sitting at a table on the bus with her teacher Lou Quinlan, both of them wearing masks. Quinlan read a story to the 7 year old and asked her questions to see what she could remember.
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“What is the name of the owner’s cat?” asked Quinlan, who is the lead reviewer for the district’s special education program. “I think it’s Sally,” said Michaela. “Close, but it’s Susan,” said Quinlan.
Michaela has problems with reading comprehension and also with the mixture of words and sounds, said Quinlan. The girl was luckier with another question Quinlan asked.
“What is the opposite of hot?” Asked Quinlan. “Cold,” said Michaela with a smile.
After class Michaela said she liked getting on the bus. “I get toys,” she said with a laugh. The students receive a small stuffed animal for every other hour on the bus.
The Hutto School District decided to send the bus it calls the “Magic Bus” to the homes of special needs students in September, said Stacie Koerth, the district’s special education director.
“I noticed that certain students had a very difficult time in the virtual environment,” said Koerth. “It’s called Magic Bus because it was a funny name and it offers magic for our children who can’t be at school for health reasons.”
The district has 1,228 special school students. The Magic Bus serves 17 students once a week and has space for three more students to meet with a teacher, Koerth said.
Each lesson on the bus lasts around 45 minutes.
Michaela’s mother, Aunchelle Weeks, said her daughter is doing much better at school now that she has lessons on the bus once a week.
“She goes in there and has the Teacher’s undivided attention,” Aunchelle Weeks said. “She doesn’t feel rushed by another student and it’s amazing what a difference that makes.”
Michaela, a student at Nadine Johnson Elementary School, does the rest of her classes online, her mother said.
The girl always struggled to read just one word before starting class on the Magic Bus, Aunchelle Weeks said.
“She read a full sentence all by herself this morning with a few words I know she’s never seen before,” she said. “I’m so excited.”
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