Estella Pyfrom's Drive for Brilliant Ideas - Pacific Standard
Pyfrom used her retirement money to buy and customize a bus and outfit it with computers, creating a mobile classroom that she called Estella's Brilliant Bus.
Estella Pyfrom, 80.

Estella Pyfrom, 80.

Estella Pyfrom, 80, grew up very poor. But when her father, a migrant worker who transported other migrant workers, taught her how to drive a bus, he gave her a skill the she'd harness many years later to benefit more than 300,000 underprivileged children. Despite their poverty, and the fact that they were black in the segregated South, he told his daughter: "Dream big. If you want something, keep working and eventually you'll achieve it."

Pyfrom worked as an educator for 50 years, teaching every age from kindergarten through 12th grade. The children she taught came from families as poor as her own. "When I started thinking of retirement," Pyfrom says, "I knew there were still a lot of services that needed to be provided." She was especially concerned about the digital divide: Most of her students didn't have computer or Internet access. "I wanted to provide them with 21st-century learning," she says, "and came up with the idea of a bus because it was big enough, it could get me out into the community—and I could drive it."

Pyfrom used her retirement money to buy and customize a bus and outfit it with computers, creating a mobile classroom that she called Estella's Brilliant Bus; since 2012, she's been out on the road with it, helping underserved communities. Pyfrom's program includes a curriculum that self-adjusts to each student's level, and that kids can access from any device. If they don't have a computer at home, Pyfrom finds them one.

After Pyfrom was named a CNN Hero, big donors took notice—Microsoft now gives computers, and Office Depot provides technology support, computers, and financial contributions. Though her main focus is combating digital illiteracy, Pyfrom also gives her young participants whatever they need: food, school supplies, tutoring, college counseling.

The years aren't slowing Pyfrom, who sleeps only four hours a night. "I'm blessed," she says. "I feel good every day. Maybe because I'm pumped up about what I do. A lot of your age is in your mind. Just because you're getting older doesn't mean you can't still make a difference."

Explore the complete list of visionaries making change after 80 here.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.

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