The Making of the WonderBus

By: Jillian Klatt

Today I had a long discussion with Mrs. O about how the WonderBus came to be. What began as a simple idea to get an office space for private speech therapy sessions became a grand vision for a mobile speech clinic. The WonderBus developed through a magical combination of many surprising helpful hands, a few very fortunate turns of events, and a whole lot of innovative thinking!

When I asked Mrs. O how she came up with the idea of an office on wheels, she explained that it all started out with quite an interesting predicament, she didn’t have enough arms! Mrs. O has been doing private therapy on top of her district caseload for quite some time, and she was getting tired of only being able to use the limited amount of materials she could carry in her arms during the sessions that took place in her clients’ houses. Bringing clients into her own home would have been a bit awkward, and renting out an office space can get quite pricey. Plus, both of those options involved the inconvenience of Mrs. O’s clients having to come to her for their sessions. After hearing about a friend who uses an old school bus for tailgating (take notes, sports fans!) and then coming across a Facebook advertisement selling refurbished buses, the vision became clear. Not only could a bus hold all of the toys, games, supplies, and paperwork that Mrs. O could dream of, but it was the perfect size to fit a few kiddos during therapy!

Once Mrs. O purchased the gutted, repainted, and upgraded bus, she had full range of how to arrange the inside for optimal speech therapy fun. Luckily, over 30 years of being an SLP has equipped Mrs. O with the knowledge of exactly the materials she would need during her speech therapy sessions to include all sorts of communication disorders and client personalities. The bus was designed much like a center-based speech room would be—with seating areas, storage benches, game cabinets, a large whiteboard, along with some fun extras like a sensory table and a puppet show stand—with one catch: everything had to be safely anchored in place to withstand the bumps and turns of the road! After a few trips with Mrs. O in the WonderBus, I saw first hand how important this last step was in the making of the WonderBus. Even leaving just a few loose board games out on a short trip around the neighborhood could make the mobile clinic look like a tornado had run through it!

Once Mrs. O had the physical elements of the bus all set up to be cosmetically appealing (which only took a few days!), the paperwork began—every professional’s favorite! Since mobile speech clinics are few and far between, Mrs. O had to go through quite a few creative collaborations with an array of individuals to cover all of the bases of this entirely new method of speech therapy delivery.

First, the WonderBus had to be retitled because it was no longer being used as a school bus, a process which took hours of communication with state officials to work through. Then Mrs. O set out to find an accountant to help her with the business end of things, who ended up being the husband of an old friend. A professor from Mrs. O’s church who teaches at the local community college gave Mrs. O a crash course in business entrepreneurial-ship and webpage design. And much of the furniture, toys, and supplies were items that Mrs. O either had laying around from past lesson plans or were donated from kind families within the community. The biggest challenge in all of this was getting the WonderBus insured. Before the WonderBus, there wasn’t really a such thing as a speech therapy vehicle. After numerous insurance companies told Mrs. O that they simply didn’t have a coverage plan for something like the WonderBus, she finally found a company who agreed to draft up a custom policy that would insure the bus itself, the office inside the bus, students who climb aboard the bus, and all of the bells and whistles that are involved in the mobile speech clinic.

How does that saying go? It takes a whole village to make a… WonderBus! Mrs. O explained how the whole process would have been a confusing nightmare if not for the wonderful individuals she networked with along the way who provided so much assistance to her and really helped her make her dream a reality.

A much less laborious task was advertising the WonderBus to potential students and their parents. As I stated earlier, Mrs. O has been in the field for over 30 years. Given the amount of kiddos who beg to stay longer at the end of their therapy sessions, there is no doubt that Mrs. O’s students love working with her. And, of course, parents love to see the progress their children make through their speech therapy with Mrs. O. As a trusted speech-language pathologist, it was not long before word got out about the WonderBus and Mrs. O had a line of clients lining up to reserve their spot with these unique speech therapy sessions! In today’s world of digital connectivity, a growing component of networking is all about reaching a web audience. Mrs. O already had a following of friends, neighbors, and parents of students on Facebook. When she made the WonderBus Facebook group, it was clear by how fast it gained members that parents were excited to see what crazy new idea Mrs. O had come up with. To get some visibility outside of her usual bubble, Mrs. O strategized by joining other speech therapy groups and posting about the WonderBus’s adventures in those feeds as well.

In addition to word-of-mouth and Facebook, the WonderBus practically advertises itself. It’s hard to miss a bright blue school bus driving down the road! While Mrs. O has her hands full thus far with private clients and district students, she imagines demand for mobile speech therapy services like the WonderBus to continue to increase. With the broadening public understanding of the importance of speech and language skills for developmental success, the number of students who would benefit from speech therapy services is only growing. What more innovative and fun way to meet those needs than with an office on wheels! On top of all of that, Mrs. O’s social-media savvy students have been prodding her to show off the adventures of the WonderBus on TikTok. I have to admit, I am personally invested in that idea!

An early design for the exterior of the WonderBus. Mrs. O likes to call her big blue bus a billboard on wheels!

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