Simply having a dream isn’t enough. Taking the steps to fulfill that dream is key. –Arthur Ashe
Let me preface this post with something my parents told me a lot as a child growing up, “Leslie, you have an overactive imagination.” They were right. I was always dreaming about something. I dreamt I would be a United States Supreme Court Justice. I’m not. I dreamt I would be a mom to six kids. I’m not. I dreamt that I would graduate from college Phi Beta Kappa. I did not, and that story could be another blog post. I did have a dream nearly three years ago. I had a dream to turn a school bus into a mobile STEAM Lab. That dream was to be my way into The Google Innovator Academy. I had submitted applications before and had been denied admittance. I wrote about my experience in a previous blog post. However, after being denied twice and taking a break to reflect and get refreshed, I was finally admitted to the Washington, DC Cohort that met in August 2017. The three days I spent in the DC Google Office were some of the most awe inspiring and life changing days in my entire 50 years of being on this planet. My days at the Innovator Academy can be read about in this blog post. Finally, the dream is a reality. January 21, 2020, Ernie’s Mobile STEAM Lab had a soft opening at Crescent Elementary School in Griffin, Georgia.
The Making of the Dream
I think Langston Hughes wrote his poem “Harlem” about me. Talk about a dream deferred. I left DC in August of 2017 full of ambition and a desire to see my dream become a reality. My reality was that my dad was in the midst of an aggressive treatment plan for stomach cancer, I had a child in foster care living with me, and my gallbladder had long since stopped working. My dad finished his cancer treatments, my little one left to go home to his mother in November of 2017, and two weeks later, I was in the emergency room having chest pains, dehydrated, and absolutely no potassium in my body. Ten days later, my non functioning gallbladder came out. I spent my Christmas vacation recovering from heartbreak and major surgery. Not a good end to my year.
Because of my experience as a foster parent, I felt called to do something more for children in foster care. While I was mulling possibilities for a change in my project focus, I was told that my district had Title dollars and wanted to support STEAM education in our district. They wanted to give me money to help with my bus project. I would have been stupid to turn that down since I had no real idea how I was going to fully furnish a bus with the latest and greatest tech tools without a large influx of cash. A cash cow had been dropped in my lap. I put my plans for a new project on hold and focused on the bus again.
Lists were made, items were ordered, countless pieces of technology were labeled, and the bus was gutted and renovations began. Then a series of unfortunate events started with no end in sight. In October of 2018, I lost my aunt. She was only 57 and was my mother’s last surviving sibling. She succumbed to breast cancer that metastasized to her brain. Her death took a toll on me. It was hard to focus on the bus project because I had a hard time believing that all of my aunts and uncles I grew up knowing and provided a connection to my mother’s side of the family were gone. I wrapped up 2018 believing that 2019 would be better. It had to be. Nothing could happen to dampen my spirits because I knew the bus would get finished, I was turning 50, and my Department of Family and Children Services caseworker told me she thought she had a child for me who would be free for adoption.
I was wrong. A week before Christmas I was in the emergency room with chest pains. I was diagnosed with Shingles and sent home with medication. A few days after the beginning of the new year, I was in my doctor’s office still having chest pains. I was told I didn’t really have Shingles but a blood clot that was camping out in my lower right lung. Seriously? What else could happen to me? I saw several doctors and began treatment for the blood clot. On February 22, 2019, my sweet boy came to live with me. He had been removed from his previous foster home because he needed permanency, and the previous foster parents were not interested in adoption. As we were getting to know one another and trying to decide if he wanted to be adopted by me, we had a few medical issues that needed to be addressed for him. He was born with damage to his auditory nerves. As we made plans to get tubes in his ears so he could get new hearing aids, I was preparing to turn 50. I had grand plans to celebrate. I celebrated at home because I had the flu. I had been working on getting the bus ready so it could be used for summer school. Work wasn’t getting done while I was home in bed. Two days later, my little one got tubes in his ears. That was a special day because his hearing without the tubes was almost non existent. He was a totally different young man. He still could not hear everything, but his hearing was better than when he first came to live with me. On April 15, 2019 my dad told me that his cancer had returned and he was dying. He had previously battled and beat cancer two years prior. Talk about a kick in stomach. I tried to juggle being a mother, a daughter to a terminally ill parent, and a project manager. I failed miserably at everything. I left the bus undone so I could spend time with my father as he prepared to leave this Earth. On June 4, 2019 my dad lost his battle with cancer. I will be honest. I didn’t care about the bus. I tried, but I couldn’t. I knew I should work on it during the summer so it would be ready when school began, but my heart was hurting, and I was lost.
Yes, I just said my heart was hurting, and I was lost. However, I had to figure out how to manage my grief and get my work done. Title funds were used to pay for the technology. I had people to answer to and data to collect. When school started that fall, I again picked up the bus project. Obstacles came and were dealt with accordingly. Thankfully I work with a wonderful group of technicians who came to my rescue. They painted, installed technology, kept a fire lit under me, and helped me to make my dream a reality.
A Dream Realized
January 22, 2020 saw students board the bus for the very first time. Was the soft opening a grand success? Depends on how you look at things. We discovered that Chromebooks do not work when they sit on a bus overnight and the temperature drops to 21 degrees Fahrenheit. As a matter of fact, most of the technology didn’t work for the very first class. I dare say the children didn’t really work, either because they were cold as well. We made a quick change in plans and moved the activities inside the school. The students were able to spend a few minutes outside touring the bus and watching Bubba, the Mavic 2 Pro Drone, fly in the friendly skies near the school. We had the Dremel 3D printer making a Baby Yoda the first day and a frog the next. They then came inside and created their own video games using Bloxels. They also explored the deep sea courtesy of Google Expeditions. Our younger learners created cars with the Lego Early Simple Machines Kit as well as a variety of structures using Magnatiles. Yes, things didn’t go as planned, but the students were excited, engaged, and eager for Ernie’s Mobile STEAM Lab to return to their school.
I would say the week was a success. This morning I opened the Google Form for other schools to bring Ernie’s Mobile STEAM Lab to their students. By the end of the day, ten of the schools in our district booked appointments!
If you would like to know more about Ernie’s Mobile STEAM Lab, please visit our website.
This project was to honor my mom’s legacy. I think she would be proud. By the way, my sweet boy decided he wanted my home to be his forever home. The petition to adopt him was sent to Superior Court today. We are just waiting for the final adoption hearing to take place, and he will #FinallyBeAFagin. A bus and a son. I’d say this year is most definitely starting off better than last year. I can’t wait to see what happens next. My #OneWord for 2020 is #Bloom.
Until next time…