Super Bowl ads may be a strange place to look for great education reform ideas, but the one about Estella's Brilliant Bus may qualify.
Estella Pyfrom, who retired after 50 years as a Florida public school teacher and guidance counselor, is doing something about the digital divide in classrooms, which she says is real and getting worse. Her Brilliant Bus mobile learning center brings technology to under-served communities and underprivileged students.
Pyfrom's work has not gone unnoticed. She was named a CNN "Hero," but she didn't become a household word until Microsoft made her the center of a Super Bowl commercial. That exposure could lead to a rapid expansion of her program or clones just like it in other parts of the country.
After she retired in 2009, Pyfrom took money from her personal savings to buy and equip a bus with 17 computer stations and high-speed Internet access. Since then, she's plugged in thousands of kids without access to a computer at home or school and who would otherwise be unplugged to the opportunities for online learning.
The Brilliant Bus is all business. Students must log into their own accounts. Gum is a no-no, along with Facebook. What students will find is a busload of educational software linked to the educational curricula in public schools. Pyfrom and members of her team monitor student progress and only allow students to advance to the next level when they display 90 percent proficiency in a subject area. Older students can get help with GED or college preparatory material, as well as tune into anti-bullying classes.
By all indications, Pyfrom and her Brilliant Bus are making a difference in the academic success of the students they reach.
Parents learn about computers through the program, too, so they feel less embarrassed and can be more supportive of their students. The Brilliant Bus has been used to train up entire neighborhoods as well on things such as online banking, job searches and resume writing.
Nearing 80, Pyfrom shows no signs of slowing down or trimming her aspirations. She has become a symbol of human empowerment.
"I don't think about what I'm not able to do or not going to be able to do," Pyfrom told CNN. "I plan for the things that I think I'm going to do, need to do and want to do. And I think most of them are going to happen. We've got to keep rolling. We're going to keep taking the service to the neighborhoods, and we are going to keep making a difference."