Liza Jackson Preparatory School donates STEAM machine to Emerald Coast Science Center
FORT WALTON BEACH — The STEAM machine has a new parking space.
The out-of-commission school bus sitting in front of Liza Jackson Preparatory School and used for education in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics will be making a permanent stop at Emerald Coast Science Center in Fort Walton Beach. Liza Jackson’s board of directors voted to donate the vehicle to the center.
Lisa Burgess, the STEAM teacher at Liza Jackson, spent the summer of 2018 with volunteers, flipping the bus from transportation purposes to educational ones. She is eager and excited about its new destination.
“It would give access to more students than just Liza Jackson,” Burgess said. “It opens the door for creativity and STEAM for all kinds of students within the area for community purposes. Even though it was a labor of love and something unique and special to the school; it was a no-brainer if the goal was to create lifelong learners in the community.”
Liza Jackson Preparatory School staff decided to donate the bus because the school will have a STEAM lab at its new location, the former YMCA facility on Hospital Road in Fort Walton Beach. The building is under construction and set to open for the fall semester.
Burgess has to pinch herself when she sees the renderings of the future STEAM lab, she said. The lab will be a little larger than a traditional classroom with two sinks and two windows, and will have all of the supplies from inside the bus — and more, she said.
“The hope that’s in those digital images, I can’t believe it’s real,” Burgess said. “I can’t believe these kids are going to get to have a real science lab and have a makerspace area where they can develop these critical skills that 21st century thinkers desire for future jobs and employers.”
Diane Fraser, director of the Emerald Coast Science Center, said she is “so excited” about the opportunity to use the STEAM machine. While the plans for the space are not fully fleshed out, Fraser said it likely will host educator-driven or self-guided hands-on activities.
“It’s gorgeous,” Fraser said. “The wrap on the outside of it, the decoration on the inside of it is just fantastic. We’re really excited about it adding extra space for us and just that it really fits in well with our eclectic personality here at the Science Center. I think that’s going to add a totally new dimension to what we do.”
Fraser plans to purchase a carport to protect it from the elements by the time summer arrives and students are out of school. The bus won’t sit in the parking lot either; it will be outside the back door, inside the secluded gated fence, Fraser said.
“Since the pandemic, we’ve been working really hard to focus on our outdoor space,” Fraser said. “We’ve got a tree fort now and we’ve been working on this boating exhibit. As soon as you walk through the front door, you’ll be able to look over and see it out of the windows, so it’s going to have a very prominent position.”
And it will allow for social distancing.
"The bus gives us another place for visitors to go, so we can spread visitors out,” Fraser said.
When Fraser was initially approached about the bus, she thought Liza Jackson officials wanted to sell it. Having it donated meant a lot.
“I was like, ‘You’re going to give it to us?’” Fraser said. “I think that speaks to the strength of the Science Center, because the Science Center itself is very community built. All of those pieces that make us so eclectic, make us so unique, are because of all the different people who have contributed to creating the Science Center. It’s not one person’s vision; it’s the whole community’s vision.”