Lakeville has long offered summer school, a chance for some students to catch up on academics and avoid losing skills during three months of vacation.

But it was feeling a little too routine to Julene Oxton, the learning specialist at Orchard Lake Elementary.

“If we keep doing the same things we’ve always done, we’re going to get the same results,” Oxton said. “We have to be innovative.”

So this year, summer school will take an unconventional turn for one group of students: a bright blue “smart bus” will go directly to the Queen Anne Courts mobile home park in Lakeville.

It’s a learning lab on wheels that will provide classroom space and Internet access to 32 students.

The bus, which serves kindergartners to sixth-graders from Orchard Lake Elementary, will run two days a week for the entire summer. Students will also receive district-issued iPads to use at home and keep until school starts.

Teachers on the bus will do home visits to get to know families and kids better, and kids will have lessons in math, reading, art and physical education.

Some of the time, students will learn outside in a grassy area, sitting on blankets. Money saved on transportation costs will help cover the cost of three teachers, allowing for a student-to-teacher ratio that’s lower than usual.

The Queen Anne site was chosen because many students living there didn’t have access to digital devices or the Internet.

On-site summer school will also be offered for about 25 Orchard Lake students living in two apartment complexes. Teachers will set up in community rooms at the apartments.

“We’re just trying to rethink how we do summer school,” said Oxton. “Really, the story is about ensuring that all kids have equal access to digital devices and opportunity for summer school.”

Bus remodel

The idea of a portable mini-classroom took shape over the last few months, Oxton said, and local bus company Schmitty and Sons made it possible by donating a bus.

The company is also providing a driver, storage and insurance, and a $2,000 donation. Schmitty and Sons removed the bus seats, installed a new floor and gave the inside a fresh coat of paint.

“There’s a lot of people who care about these kids and want them to succeed,” Oxton said.

Updating the whole bus will cost about $9,000, paid for through donations, said Stephanie Kass, a district spokeswoman who is managing the project. Most of that cost is in wrapping the exterior of the bus with colorful pictures of kids, buildings and the Lakeville district’s logo.

The furnishings on the bus were free because Oxton dug through a shed at school and found several cafeteria tables and a white board that could be repurposed.

When she told the kids about the bus that would be coming to their neighborhood, “they were just jumping out of their skin” with excitement, Oxton said.

“I got excited because it was going to be different,” said Ithan Marcial, who is in fourth grade at Orchard Lake.

Her cousin, Jocelyn Marcial, said she’s enjoyed going to summer school in the past. Having the school come to her will be nice, she said.

The bus will also appear in the Pan-O-Prog parade and at other events, Kass said.

And district officials want to add a second bus to deliver STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) curriculum in the next year, Kass added.

Thinking differently

The bus is part of a larger effort by Lakeville to try new things, Oxton said.

“It’s not like we need more money all the time,” she said, noting that both the teachers and administrators need to think differently about education.

The district’s achievement gap factored into the decision to drive the bus and its technology to Queen Anne students, she said. There’s a 30 percentage point difference on standardized test scores between students of color and white students at Orchard Lake. There’s also a similar gap between students who receive free or reduced lunch and those who don’t.

Mitigating a “have and have-not situation” where only certain kids have digital devices can help lessen that gap, she said.

Students served by the bus can choose to read thousands of books on the iPads, or play educational games. Teachers will measure students’ test scores at the end of the summer.

“We’ll know by next fall … if this worked,” Oxton said. “And if it did, we need to replicate it.”