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By September 23, 2022 September 25th, 2022 No Comments

The Magic Bus

By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins

A former teacher flips the switch on her career and goes mobile

The neighbor’s cat, a friendly tuxedo with gold eyes, walks slowly around the blue school bus parked at Jennifer Hannah’s Arlington Heights home. With a rainstorm looming, we can tell he’s interested in finding shelter.

Jennifer laughs. “Yes, he likes Big Blue, too.” After our bus stop interview, we can understand why. The 2007 Freightliner Blue Bird is short enough to fit on Jennifer’s driveway, but it’s big on style inside and out. The renovated bus is a sometimes refuge for the cat and offers a new direction for this 39-year-old veteran educator, who left her chosen field and highly regarded private schools in the Atlanta area and Fort Worth for a four-wheeled classroom.

“I was the kid in third grade who knew a better way of running the classroom than the teacher,” says Jennifer. We’re settled inside Big Blue on Ikea chairs, with the space cooled by a generator-powered air conditioner. “My mom was always active in the PTA, and I always wanted to be a teacher,” she says.

Jennifer eventually got a job co-teaching third grade at the progressive High Meadows School, set on a 40-acre historic farm near Roswell, Georgia. “It’s the kind of place that looks like a school but doesn’t act like one. An International Baccalaureate school, its curriculum is experiential and unique.”

While there, she took part in a teacher exchange program in Scotland, an early exposure to the joys of travel. “I decided it was time to leave Georgia and do something different,” says Jennifer. (Almost 10 years later after moving to Texas, she saw a story about a Scottish woman who had a bus that doubled as a bookstore.)

Her parents lived in Fort Worth, and she liked the feel of the growing city. While her folks have since moved to Houston, she lives in Arlington Heights because of its small-town vibe and easy access to everything. She got a job teaching at Fort Worth Country Day, her first solo experience after her tag-team career at High Meadows. “I was the hippie teacher with my bells and crystals, but they were wonderful and welcoming. It really built my confidence and self-esteem.”

But Jennifer realized she had been in a classroom for more than 17 years and yearned for something different. “I’m still in love with my profession and am getting my master’s degree in special education. I just couldn’t see myself in a classroom all day, and I kept having the same conversations with parents about academic support outside of school.”

She also wanted to travel more and have a more inspired life. “What I really wanted was an adventure.” Jennifer incorporated her new mobile learning studio business, Sit Beside, in the winter of 2021.

Jennifer says simple things such as wooden blocks make learning more interesting.

Big Blue’s control panel remains intact, although Jennifer says she tries not to touch any of the switches except the necessary ones. The nametag is a souvenir from her Georgia years.

She found her bus online via Leviathan Truck Sales in Burnet, Texas, which has a “Schoolies” division of used buses. “I fell in love with it immediately. It was fully functioning and had a higher ceiling, as it had a wheelchair lift at one time.”

She and her father planned a road trip to pick up the bus in San Antonio, although neither one had ever driven a school bus. “Dad embraces entrepreneurship, so he was excited about the project. We met a mobile mechanic in San Antonio so he could check it out, and by the time we left, it was rush hour. We had to navigate the downtown traffic driving a stripped-down school bus,” says Jennifer. “We took the back roads to avoid the interstate and didn’t get back to Fort Worth until about 11 that night.”

Her adventure was already underway. “And three months later, I noticed the bus had a number on the outside, and it happened to be my birthdate. I knew Big Blue was meant to be.”

Jennifer had the bus updated inside and out; Zilla Wraps added her graphics and logo on the exterior.

With a new floor, white wood paneling with raw wood accents, LED spotlights built into the ceiling, and furniture from Ikea, Big Blue came to life. Jennifer added a half wall toward the back to create a reading nook stocked with her favorite books. The cushioned bench seat does double duty as storage, and the worktable can move as needed. Windows are shaded with painted mesh screens on the exterior that allow for privacy and shade, but are still transparent enough to not obscure the view.

Reading is made fun with a stash of kid-friendly books, all with inviting artwork.

Jennifer added personal touches as well: fuzzy dice, pillows, plants, a carved wood yellow school bus and a few crystals left over from her Georgia days. Her website, souvenir stickers and other branded items reflect her artistic side, but the focus is still on learning.

“While we might make things, we’re not going to paint,” says Jennifer, who gives a nod to The Little Art Bus for providing a space for budding artists. “I offer reading and writing exercises, plus programs designed to work on math skills. I want to keep groups small and limit it to second- through fifth-graders.” Her book club allows kids more of a deep dive into a particular story and aims to spur interest in the subject and the author.

Jennifer has been parking the bus at spots in the community that give it exposure and allow easy access: a park, local bakeries. She’s looking to partner with schools for on-campus visits. For fall, Big Blue will be parked at CERA Recreation Complex off Bryant Irvin Road. Her Saturdays with Sit Beside are aimed at inviting the Fort Worth community to visit the bus and experience the joy of a good book.

Pricing depends on individual services. Jennifer hopes to offer a sliding scale of fees eventually, making Big Blue accessible to everyone. And, she’d like to get another bus. “Even though I don’t have a traditional teaching job, I feel really busy,” says Jennifer, especially with her online master’s work.

“But every day is a new day. I’m learning, too.”

Jennifer works with small groups of kids, typically the same age.


Sit Beside The mobile learning studio is now available for group tutoring and unique learning experiences from a veteran educator. Learn more on the website. sitbeside.com