In the late 1980s, many low-income children received little, if any, early childhood education from Nevada's state-sponsored preschool programs. In this period, approximately 25 percent of eligible children were served; nearly 5000 went without preschool services. This was partly because low-income neighborhoods were scattered across Nevada's counties. This meant that most low-income families were not within a reasonable distance of preschool facilities. In addition, even if state facilities had been filled to capacity, they could not have accommodated all of Nevada's low-income children.
In 1987, Louise Helton was volunteering in a local kindergarten class when a student asked her, "Which one is the red crayon?" Ms. Helton realized that many of the children she worked with were below their grade levels. She eventually approached the State Board of Education. This led to the creation of the Nevada Classroom on Wheels (COW) program.
COW purchases used school buses from local districts and transforms the interiors into an early childhood, preschool classroom. COW then paints the buses with black and white spots, resembling a cow, and drives them into low-income neighborhoods. Each bus can deliver services to four neighborhoods, 18 children each, for two and half-hours twice a week. The program offers bilingual services to develop motor skills, pre-academic skills, music and art, language, social skills and proper health and nutrition. It also emphasizes drug prevention and ways to avoid at-risk behavior.
COW provides an accessible means to a safe and educational environment for low-income children. To date, COW has provided nearly 2000 children with an early childhood education. These children would otherwise enter public education at an extreme disadvantage compared with children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Kindergarten teachers have confirmed that many of COW's students end up being young leaders in the classroom. They demonstrate confidence in participation and socialize well with others.