Several teachers from Herndon Elementary School are volunteering their time this summer to get kids reading.
Every Wednesday, the group brings a self-styled bookmobile to two apartment complexes in Herndon, where the teachers lay out boxes of donated books on the lawn. Children are encouraged to look through, choose books that appeal to them and take them home to read. Best of all: The books are theirs to keep.
The bookmobile was the idea of Lizette Bennett, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages at Herndon Elementary, said school Principal Ann Gwynn. Bennett began asking for donations of books because she saw the need for kids to keep reading over the summer, Gwynn said.
“A lot of our students do not have access to quality literature,” Bennett said. “Many of our parents work very, very hard just to provide the basics to our students, so they’re not able to buy books and things like that to support their students and build their home libraries.”
Research shows that the reading skills of students from low-income families tend to regress over the summer, when school is out, Gwynn said.
The purpose of the bookmobile, Bennett said, is to prevent that “summer slide.”
After Bennett started her book drive, a group of teachers at Herndon Elementary formed a committee to help her with the project. Gwynn connected Bennett with Trinity Presbyterian Church, which is across the street from the school, to help with book donations.
When blogger and motivational speaker Glennon Doyle Melton spoke at a church event in June, attendees were asked to bring books to donate, said the Rev. Rebecca Messman, associate pastor of Trinity Presbyterian. The event brought in more than 3,000 books and $1,600 in donations to help with bookmobile expenses, Messman said.
Bennett said people have continued to drop off books at the school during the summer. But with most of the books already in the hands of young readers, more are needed, Messman said.
The teachers bring boxes of books to Lifestyle Apartments in the morning and Parkridge Apartments in the afternoon.
One Wednesday morning last month, a half-dozen teachers helped Bennett unload boxes from her SUV and set them on the Lifestyle Apartments lawn. The books had been sorted into boxes for younger and older readers, with labels such as Toddler and Board Books, Beginning Readers, Bilingual, Fantasy and Adventure, and Young Adult.
As children arrived with older family members and caretakers, some of the teachers sat on the ground, helping them sort through the boxes, and read with the visitors.
Jacquelin Perez, 12, a resident of the apartment complex, picked out a few books for herself and her 2-year-old sister, Emily. Pavithra Rajesh, a fifth-grade teacher, suggested “Good Night, Gorilla,” by Peggy Rathmann.
“We try to pick out books that the kids will like and will hopefully involve the family, too,” Rajesh said.
Resident Saundra Watts, 52, also stopped by to pick up some books for her two grandsons, ages 8 and 2.
“This is really wonderful,” Watts said, adding that the bookmobile had given her an inspiration.
“We’re going to have reading night,” she said. “We’re going to specify a night when they come over, that we do nothing but read. No TV, no nothing.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.