Sharon approves ARPA spending for the little green bus
SHARON — For now the little bus is a dull green all over, but only because it is newly acquired as part of a project recommended by the committee that receives applications for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
Presenting the project to the Board of Selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday, July 26, the ARPA committee reviewed details. Based on the report, the selectmen voted unanimously to allocate $21,000 in funding to support outfitting the bus as a vehicle for distributing free books to children and for providing mobile educational enrichment programs.
Because the funding would need to come from the second half of the town’s ARPA allocation and the second half has not been received yet, the funding is contingent upon the town’s receiving its second half, First Selectman Brent Colley said.
The project is the work of Sharon Center School teacher Heather Mathews, who plans to operate the bus under her tutoring business name of H and H Educators. The second “H” in the partnership represents her trained therapy dog, Holly, who will act as her teaching assistant on the bus, helping children to learn. Mathews attended the selectmen’s meeting to describe her plans.
“My goal is to return kids to grade level,” Mathews said, documenting the effects of the COVID-19 decline paired with the usual summer decline in learning retention. She reported that last year, some children missed as many as 48 days of school. While some summer slippage is expected, education professionals have found that the pandemic seriously exacerbated the issue.
The little learning bus will allow Mathews to go where the kids are during the summer, as an attraction with its envisioned colorful awning, free books and engaging programs in its mini classroom. Mathews expects that the bus will visit the town beach, day care and other places where children gather. Or, during the school year, the bus can travel to students’ homes for tutoring sessions, even on weekends.
Having used her own funds to purchase the bus, Mathews said that it will take some months to outfit the bus properly, and to arrive at a motif for the exterior paint, but by next summer the bus should be ready, and the program will be underway. Already, the interior has gained knotty pine paneling. She added that her home is filling up with donated books for early readers up to Grade 5.
“The timing is fortuitous,” selectman Dale Jones said. “All rural communities should have this.”
In advance of a decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission and their review of a site plan describing the CT Green Bank solar installation adjacent to Sharon Center School, the selectmen agreed to set a date for a Town Meeting to be held on Thursday, August 18, at the Town Hall, beginning at 6 p.m. [TK on site]
If wetlands are involved, the Inland Wetlands Commission will need to review the plan.
At the town meeting, voters would need to authorize the long-term use of town property for the project.