A white Medford School District van loaded with smiling teachers and a half dozen bins of books was a welcome sight in the neighborhoods surrounding Washington Elementary School on Friday morning.
Third-grade teacher Jodi Smith could hardly get the driver side door open at each of her stops before children appeared from all over, excited for the snacks, books and face time with beloved teachers.
Seven-year-old Autumn Wolarik was excited to see the van, though she admitted she had to change out of her pajamas first.
“I wake up at 6 a.m. They don’t wake me up!” Autumn said, thumbing through a box of “chapter books” and selecting a handful of titles.
“I like when they come bring more books so I’m always ready for them.”
Autumn’s black dog, Luna, leaned against the fence barking and wagging her tail at the van while Autumn’s three siblings and her mom, Summer Wolarik, watched the selection process unfold.
Smith created the mobile library this year in the hopes she could keep kids reading during the summer break.
The mobile library visits 70 to 90 students who’ve signed up for the service, including grade schoolers and Head Start kids destined to attend Washington Elementary.
“I try to go to the library every Tuesday, but I don’t always go. I get a lot of books and read to my brother,” Autumn said.
“I like getting new books all the time because I read a lot.”
Autumn’s mom said the new service had made a huge difference in how much reading her daughter managed to do this summer.
“I love it. It’s the most wonderful thing. I don’t go to the library, and I need to, but I don’t because I’ve got four kids,” Wolarik said.
“This has been wonderful because Autumn gets books every week and she reads them. This has kept her reading all summer long. She looks forward to it every week.”
Smith wrote a small grant to the Medford Schools Foundation to purchase the books. The mobile library shows up at 9 a.m. Fridays at the school and stays for an hour. Then Smith hits the road to deliver books.
Teachers, school staff and retired educators tag along each week. On the most recent Friday, retired Central Point Superintendent Randy Gravon helped hoist the bins of books in and out of the van at every stopping point.
Smith said it was exciting to see students focus on reading during the long summer break, when skills often get rusty in young readers.
“It’s been fun for the kids and the teachers who come on the route with me. We bring a basket with snacks and we have all the books. The kids look forward to the hugs just as much as they look forward to the snack and the books. We have over 1,000 books in these bins and they can choose five each week,” Smith said.
Once the children turn in the books they’ve read, they can select five new books. They also can renew books if they’re still reading them, Smith said.
Smith said the mobile library, without a doubt, had put books in the hands of kids who are home alone while parents work or who might come from families who can’t afford new books.
“Some of our kids are home alone. Some have no car or, for whatever reason, they just don’t make it down to the library to get books. Going to the houses made a big difference,” Smith said.
“It’s been really neat to touch base with the kids.”
Fellow third-grade teacher Sarah Costa waved to a red-headed boy on a bike.
“See you in a few weeks,” she said.
The boy, a book tucked under his arm, replied, “Yeah, for moving up to second grade!”
Costa said she hoped to see the program spread to other schools next year.
“They know the teachers are coming and they think, ‘Oh gosh, I better read my books because they’re going to come back again on Friday. I’ve got to read my books,’” said Costa.
“It’s hard enough, during the school year, for our kids to remember to bring books back. If not for this awesome program Jodi put together, most of these kids would not pick up a single book.”
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.