Ephrata Area School District’s newest makerspace is on wheels.
Dubbed the “MakerBus,” Ephrata students and staff this spring completed a monthslong transformation of a traditional school bus, donated by Groff Transportation, into a mobile STEM workshop for elementary students.
They replaced 24 rows of seating with a laser cutter, a CNC machine, a 3D printer, work benches and a 500-pound tool cabinet.
A liftgate was secured onto the back of the bus, and the traditional yellow exterior was covered by a bright, science- and technology-themed wrap.
“We really had a lot to do in here to make it into a makerspace,” Joel Bischoff, an Ephrata High School technology education teacher who helped supervise the upgrades, said on a recent Thursday morning.
Bischoff and some of the high schoolers who helped with renovations were preparing the bus for an “off the grid” tree house project with Akron Elementary School students.
Once it was ready, the elementary students came out in groups to work in the MakerBus. With the older students’ help, they fashioned a switch for their solar-powered tree house lights.
First, though, they got to design their own MakerBus badges — buttons that they proudly pinned onto their clothes before donning their safety glasses, grabbing a screwdriver and working on their switch. Designs varied from the NHL’s Boston Bruins to a long stream of binary code.
For lots of kids, this was the first time they’ve worked in such a space.
“You can make really creative stuff with all the machines,” fourth grader Chayce Hoenninger said.
“It’s nice,” Chayce’s classmate Alexis Palmer added. “I like to see how the machines operate.”
The bus has visited each of Ephrata Area’s four elementary schools this spring.
Superintendent Brian Troop said the project coincides with the district’s focus on creating “life-ready” graduates.
The district recently added a student-designed makerspace at the middle school and STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — carts at its elementary schools.
“The goal of the bus is to give students at the early age an opportunity to have an authentic successful experience making something of value with their hands,” Troop said. “This is purposeful to have more students grow up recognizing that the trades is an option for them as a career.”
It’s rewarding for the older students, too.
High school rising senior Vlad Dorokhov was part of the renovation team, which worked from September to March on the project.
“It’s definitely unique to be a part of this,” he said, adding that he enjoys interacting with the younger kids.
The MakerBus project was supported by a $40,000 pledge from the Ephrata Area Education Foundation.