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Gaining Ground bus keeps Oklahoma students reading in summer

August 8, 2018

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (AP) — A small school bus with Justin Timberlake music blaring outside turns down a neighborhood street.

Inside, a small group of teachers discuss the latest episode of Big Brother and recent date nights, but they are just going through the motions.

It’s small talk.

They come alive when they start talking about the plot lines of the latest “Peppa Pig” and “Knuffle Bunny” books. They get excited as they name students and what they’ve written on the little cards they fill out after reading a book. Cards that say things like, “I love dog bcoues(sic) there soo cute. There even help people.” Some just have pencil pictures scribbled on them.

“Hang on, I hit curbs,” Lisa Shotts said as she pulls to a stop.

Children in the neighborhood run down the middle of the road with book bags slung over their shoulders. They implore younger siblings to hurry.

It takes two teachers to grab a large Yeti cooler full of frozen pops out of the back of the bus. Two more teachers pull a slide out, fixing it to the back door so children can slide down.

The well-choreographed routine happens every Wednesday about 16 times, as the new nonprofit Gaining Ground delivers books to Union Public Schools children.

Students at those schools were given 10 books at the end of the school year. They are theirs to keep, but they can bring them and trade them in when the Gaining Ground Book Bus arrives in their neighborhood over the summer.

There are no late fees or library-type cards because these books are the children’s to keep as long as they choose, Tulsa World reported.

They don’t just provide the books to stop “summer slide,” as they call it.

“This is really about the love of reading,” founder Lisa Shotts said. “Reading is the foundation for everything. Reading builds passion.”

All the teachers who work on the bus are volunteers.

“Part of it is community building. We like to make sure the kids know the teachers are present and in their neighborhood,” said Kirby Mackenzie, Ochoa Elementary’s library media specialist.

Kids lose a lot of reading skills in the summer if they don’t read, she said. But if they do keep reading, this can be prevented.

“We want it to feel party-ish, because school and reading is fun. We learn through play, doing, experience and adventure,” Mackenzie said. “That’s what teaching them to read is for us — joyful.”

Shotts and Mackenzie gained national exposure when they were teachers at McAuliffe Elementary School and started the same type of program there. Ellen DeGeneres gave them a truck to deliver books in 2014.

When their principal, Rita Long, transferred to Ochoa Elementary School for its opening, Shotts and Mackenzie went with her. They still work on the Ellen book van at McAuliffe on Tuesdays in the summer.

Gaining Ground is funded by local agencies such as the Ed Darby Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Local businesses and hundreds of small donations also help.

Next year the bus will add Gilcrease Elementary, but the teachers’ goal is to serve five schools if they get enough donations.

Ten-year-old Bailey Martin waves and dances as the bus arrives near her house with its music playing.

“They’re amazing. They give you free books every week,” she said.

After she gets books, she runs to her yard and shows off; twirling a color guard-style rifle. Her teacher, Shotts, is getting in the bus to head to the next stop but sees Martin and her rifle. A former Muskogee High School color guard member, she jumps out of the bus and runs to Martin’s house and twirls the rifle tossing it high in the air. A perfect catch leaves Martin shocked. She loves seeing her teachers in the summer.

“They always call you by your name,” she said with a smile.

“We all could go get jobs elsewhere, but our passion is literacy and reading with kiddos,” Shotts said. “Getting kids to have that love of reading — volunteering is the only way to get that done.”


Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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