Austin, TX— It was a special day for the Del Valle ISD Book Bus. Usually the Book Bus drove through neighborhoods near East Austin, stopping in public places like swimming pools and parks to distribute free books to kids. Today it was parked in front of Collins Elementary School, where students were celebrating their last day of summer school. From the front doors of the school, kindergarteners and first graders emerged in a line.
“Oh my gosh, there are so many choices,” a little girl exclaimed as she saw the boxes of books.
Event organizer Trish McCarthy smiled. She walked up to the line of students and guided them to a row of clear plastic boxes that lined the walkway to the school’s front doors. Each one was full of books. “The boxes are organized by grade levels and genres — fiction and nonfiction,” she explained, pointing towards the boxes of books. A teacher stood next to her, translating for students who spoke Spanish.
“Son de temas como matemáticas y plantas, y ciencia,” elaborated Demarais Free, Biliteracy Coordinator for Del Valle Independent School District. The books are about themes like mathematics, plants, and science.
The little girls and boys walked over to the boxes of books, and gazed upon them to ascertain what they held. Their eyes sparkled as they saw topics that intrigued them. They could take home 2-3 books each.
“Todos son en Inglés excepto por la última cajita,” Free told them. All of them are in English except for the last box.
Thirty-seven percent of the students in Del Valle ISD are learning English as their second language. According to Tracy Cobb, Literacy Coordinator for Del Valle ISD, about 500 children enrolled in summer school this year.
Five years ago, a librarian named Julienne Thorpe started the engine of the first Book Bus. Since then it’s grown into a fleet of nine school buses. Volunteers from all over the district participate to help prevent The Summer Slide, which is a period of time during the summer months when the educational gains achieved during the school year can slide backwards.
Educators encourage students to read at least 20 minutes a day, and they go out of their way to help children reach that goal. Teachers from Collins, Hillcrest, and Gilbert Elementary Schools, as well as Del Valle Middle School, and Del Valle High School volunteered their time this year to put books in students’ hands.
This year, the Book Bus stop at Collins Elementary was organized by Trish McCarthy. McCarthy started her career teaching second grade. Thirty years later, she’s a Coordinator of Instructional Learning for Region 13 at Del Valle Independent School District, helping elementary and high school teachers continue to develop their professional skills. She doesn’t get many days off for the summer, but she made time to coordinate this event.
“It’s been a blessing,” she said about the number of books that were donated to the district. Many of the books were donated by teachers and their families. Literati club members donated about 1,400 books, which we gave to the district to fuel the Summer Book Bus and the December Coats for Kids Drive.
After choosing a few books, the students started walking back towards the door. They stopped by their teacher, and sat down single-file, passing the time by opening their new books and exploring the worlds within. To the right of the line, a little boy with chestnut-colored hair was fascinated by a cricket climbing the school wall. To the left, a first-grade boy was eager to use his new books to advance his status in a reading competition that his teacher was hosting in Class Dojo. After assessing his books, he walked up to a teacher in a purple t-shirt.
“How many Dojo Points does Damian have?” he asked her.
Damien had 34, she said. “How many do I have?” he asked.
33, she said.
“How many do I need to get treasure from the box?”
More than Damien, she said.
He pondered this and nodded his head. Challenge accepted, his facial expression read. When the kids in her class reach a certain number of Dojo Points, they get to choose something from the Treasure Box, the teacher explained. He meandered back to the line of children and found a space to sit.
After all the students had picked books they liked, they stood up.
Mrs. Free reminded them, “What do you say?”
“Gracias!” “Thank you!” they said in unison.
They waved and followed their teachers back through the front doors of the school.
“Have a good rest of your summer!” Miss McCarthy said as she waved back. “Have fun reading!”