His mother in tow, 4-year-old Corey Taylor climbed into Baltimore County's freshly minted Parent Mobile yesterday morning and instantly fell in love -- with an iMac computer.
Corey and his mother, 29-year-old Dot Sublett of Essex, were among the first to visit the county's newest education tool, a retooled school bus complete with computers, brochures, air conditioning, and a television and VCR.
The Parent Mobile, formally unveiled at the Kings Mill Apartments in Essex yesterday, is intended to help bridge the communication gap that sometimes exists between teachers and homebound parents, some of whom lack reliable transportation, can't afford a baby sitter, or have physical disabilities.
On board the bus, a parent liaison will teach mothers and fathers on how to help their children with homework, encourage them to share in household chores, and learn to resolve disagreement with siblings. Parents also can pick up information about registering their children for kindergarten and pediatric immunizations, among other things, said Linda Richardson, a parent liaison.
The bus is expected to make it easier for parents to be involved in their children's education.
"We expect parents to come to us when they have a problem but that doesn't always happen," said Linda Olszewski, Baltimore County PTA President. "If we want our students to succeed, this is one way to make sure it happens."
The Parent Mobile will tour the county, moving to a new neighborhood every day or so. This month, it will make stops in the southeastern portion of the county; from there, it will travel to the northwestern region.
"This is the most creative initiative I've seen in many years," said Superintendent of Schools Anthony G. Marchione, who visited the recently refurbished bus that had transported Baltimore County school children for 12 years before it was reincarnated as the Parent Mobile.
Yesterday, Board of Education Vice President Phyllis E. Ettinger marveled at its pine-paneled walls, cream mini-blinds, blue-white-and-yellow seat cushions and automatic coffee makers.
"I think it's just beautiful. I bet some of the children who used to ride this bus would like to see it now," Ettinger said, eyeing a soft pillow and pile of children's books that enhance a rear corner of the bus.
The Parent Mobile is the brainchild of parent liaison Linda L. Ross, who read about a mobile classroom on the Internet. She remembered a bookmobile she visited as a child. "That's where the seed started," recalled Richardson. "It just took off from there."
Renovating the school bus cost the school system between $50,000 and $80,000 in grants and in-kind services, said Sharon Norman, Director of Business, Community and Parent Relations.
Many pitched in.
The America Online Foundation donated computer hardware and Internet service worth about $10,000. The Maryland State Department of Education contributed about $15,000. Herman Born & Sons, a Baltimore County business that repairs and paints trucks, repainted the outside of the bus and did some minor body repair work.
A group of Patapsco High School art students added colorful designs and Parent Mobile logos. Ken Morosko, a school system transportation employee, helped redesign the bus. His mother, Betty Morosko, a retired Baltimore County school bus driver, sewed the seat covers.
"It's really nice," said Deidre Stockton, 23, of Essex, whose 4-year-old daughter, Destini, attends pre-kindergarten classes with Corey Taylor at Deep Creek Elementary School.
"A lot of parents don't have access to stuff like this," Stockton said, nodding at a row of bright education brochures. "If the bus is in the community, then you can get to it."
Added Sublett: "You can be 110 years old and still learn something new."