At the 2014 ESSENCE Festival, we hosted our first-ever #YESWECODE Tech Village, an all-day event featuring community leaders, thinkers and technical training and mentoring organizations working to fill the minority gap in Silicon Valley and beyond. In this It Takes a Tech Village series, we profile the organizations that made our Tech Village a success.
If Estella Pyfrom looks familiar, it's because she was recognized last year as a CNN Hero, a honor she received for the humanitarian genius behind her Brilliant Bus initiative, which really is quite brilliant.
Pyfrom, a retired 50-year veteran of Florida's Palm Beach County School District, didn't have any training in technology before she realized students in her district lacked the digital know-how to meet the demands of the 21st century workforce.
"The minute I decided that [in retirement] I wanted to continue what I was doing for 50 years [as a school administrator], I knew I needed to be creative, and I needed to understand it," Pyfrom said in a phone interview.
So Pyfrom, who is now 76, brushed up on her tech skills in 2009 and emptied her pension to build a non-profit, state-of-the-art mobile learning center called Project Aspiration, which was later renamed Estella's Brilliant Bus. She's been offering free tutoring to students since 2011.
Students who were among the winners of the #YESWECODE Hackathon at the 2014 ESSENCE Festival for their GlucoReader app rode from Florida to New Orleans on Estella's Brilliant Bus, and Pyfrom takes great pride in her affiliation with the winners.
And that's just one of many success stories tied to Pyfrom and her work. She spoke to us about what's next for her organization.
ESSENCE: Why did you decide to launch your Brilliant Bus?
Estella Pyfrom: I started Brilliant Bus in an effort to expose kids to technology. I became passionate about technology when I realized that it would give kids so much exposure and different ways to connect with the world. I also just looked at what was going on in the community. When I was building my curriculum, I coordinated with area schools so that I could correlate what I was doing on the bus with what students were doing at school. I started working with kids at day care centers, churches, schools and community centers, and I ended up being able to offer a program for kids at all levels to prepare them for standardized tests, readiness tests and GED tests.
ESSENCE: What's special about this method of teaching?
EP: Not only is it unique and innovative, it's an idea that works. The Brilliant Bus is customized and I built it from scratch. The bus is a mobile learning lab and it can do whatever a classroom can do. Instead of kids who live in undeserved neighborhoods finding me, I am able to take the learning to the neighborhoods.
ESSENCE: What do your students tell you is their favorite part of the Brilliant Bus?
EP: Kids will do anything to get out of the classroom. They say it's like going on a field trip. One of the good things they tell me is that the activities [on the bus] are so much in sync with what they are doing in the classroom and that it's a good supplement. Everything that I do with kids on the bus is grade and age level appropriate.
ESSENCE: What's next for the bus? How will you expand on it?
EP: Brilliant Bus isn't just a bus; it's a movement. We plan on building these clubs in various communities. We're conducting surveys now so that we can move beyond coding and into Robotics. We are going to get really creative with science and math so we can build robots.