The second Gus Bus re-wrap is expected to be unveiled on Jan. 30.

The Gus Bus, an after-school enrichment program for elementary school students in Harrisonburg, has recently undergone a transformation — one that highlights local landmarks with the hope of bringing the community together.

Founded in 2003, the Gus Bus is a program based within JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services (IIHHS), a department of the College of Health and Behavioral Services (CHBS) that brings creative and literacy learning to K-5th grade students, according to its website.

Jolynne Bartley, the associate director of children and youth services at IIHHS, said the Gus Bus has changed a lot in the past 20 years, which is what sparked the redesign. 

At its beginning, the Gus Bus vehicles traveled exclusively to local preschools to help kids prepare for kindergarten, Bartley said. Later, the program started offering its services to students up through fifth grade in many Harrisonburg neighborhoods. 

Rachel Gagliardi, the Gus Bus program director, said the most well-known part of the Gus Bus is its mobile-classroom vehicles. These vehicles travel to various Harrisonburg neighborhoods during after-school hours to offer children enrichment where the students do “fun, experimental activities” and work with academic professionals to increase literacy and creative skills, according to the Gus Bus website. Gagliardi said the students come inside the parked vehicle to read stories and complete related activities.  

Gagliardi said the buses come equipped with libraries and shelf-stable food from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank for the children to take home. 

Along with the mobile vehicles, the Gus Bus program offers students in-school enrichment in areas of literacy, creativity, and gardening, as well as homework help and tutoring, according to the Gus Bus website. Gagliardi estimates that the Gus Bus helps roughly 200 students every week. 

Along with the change in program, the Gus Bus team hoped a redesign would create a refreshing, cooler look to keep students interested and fix the natural wear and tear, Gagliardi and Bartley said. 

“We’ve had an established logo since 2003 that was a bunny riding a cart stacked with books,” Bartley said. “His ears were flying back behind him to give you that visual of movement in motion. We knew we wanted to honor that original logo.” 

After the new logo was completed in fall 2021, the next step was to create a new bus design. Bartley and the Gus Bus team worked with Josh See, a CHBS Creative Services graphic designer, to create the bus’ new look. 

The old buses had an all-white exterior with the logo slapped on the side. The new Gus Bus, which rolled out this fall, features iconic landmarks throughout the city of Harrisonburg, including an image of Wilson Hall — a landmark building on JMU’s campus — across a slick blue and green background with the new bunny logo in the corner, giving the Gus Bus a pop of color. 

“The inspiration for the artwork came from the Gus Buses and the area they serve,” See said in an email to The Breeze. “It evolved from a graphic made years ago for the Gus Bus website, which showed one of the buses driving around a neighborhood with lots of hills and trees, representing Harrisonburg.” 

See took the community-centered idea from the graphic and expanded on it by adding local distinguishing landmarks. 

Bartley said it was important to include parts of the community in the new artwork because the young people who come to the program interact with lots of different spaces in Harrisonburg, and IIHHS wanted to reflect that. 

According to Bartley, the bus re-wraps — putting the new artwork on — take about a week to complete. One of the two buses has been re-wrapped and is active, with the second expecting to unveil on Jan. 30. See said the artwork for the second bus — which is different from the first bus — was completed last month with the help of a JMU student graphic designer, Carrie Chambers. The second bus features green hills with houses and trees on them, representing the Harrisonburg neighborhoods the bus drives through. At the top of the highest hill there’s the word “LOVE” while a sunset fills the background. Each re-wrap costs around $5,000, Gagliardi said.

As for reactions, Gagliardi said the community loves it. See said the reaction he’s heard the most is that “it just makes people smile.” 

“The kids were excited when that first re-wrapped bus went through the neighborhoods,” Gagliardi said. ”I think people are just really excited to see this upgrade for a program that has been so beloved in our community for so long.” 

Contact Ashlee Thompson at thomp6ab@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.