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Education Support Professional Starts Book Mobile Out of Her Pickup Truck

Katie WieseOnce upon a time, a 7-year old girl struggled with reading, writing, and math to the point where her teacher said she might need to repeat second grade. The girl with hazel eyes, brown pig tails and thrift store clothes qualified for free lunches at school. Her single mother worked odd, long hours as a nursing home aide. She sometimes went without dinner so the little girl and her younger sister would not go to bed hungry. Times were difficult for this impoverished Minnesota family.

Decades later, that girl recalls how her mother and teacher did not give up on her. Instead, they encouraged her to read, read, read. The teacher gave her books to take home and her mother traded sleep time for reading time. It became a family tradition.

That girl now earns a living as a librarian at Desert Springs Elementary School in Nampa, Idaho. She is often reminded of her humble beginnings when interacting with students whose parents work the same long hours as her mom, and whose low incomes force them to choose paying for rent and food over buying books. The work schedules of mom and dad often preclude visits to the public library.

The girl wonders if there is a connection between low family income and the lack of educational opportunities. I believe there is, since I now see the same void in the eyes of my students as my former teacher saw in me. That was enough for me to try and help these students in some way.

In May 2015, I decided to honor my family and former educators by starting a book mobile out the back of my Dodge Ram truck. Crazy idea? Not to the shoeless kids with bright eyes and hard-working parents affiliated with Desert Springs.

I made a plea to families at our school and the community: Bring me your used books! And they did! This is my second summer filling a dozen bins with donated books for all ages and driving them to neighborhoods for distribution. I also contacted the Oasis Feeding Program, which provides free meals to needy families, to identify neighborhoods they service where our students live.

We are now partners in The Lunch Bunch Book Club. What a beautiful partnership: feeding their minds and their tummies!

Here’s how it works: Families in several locations are provided a free lunch and the opportunity to peruse the bins and choose books to take home. If they bring them back to exchange for other books, great! If not, that’s good too. It ‘s important that my students keep the books for as long as they want. We distribute about 40 books per week over 10 weeks.

Before the program started, I designed flyers that students took home showing dates and locations where we would be visiting. At the time, I had my doubts about this book club.

My first visit was to a trailer park known for its high poverty and gang-related activity. Most of the kids there fend for themselves during summer while parents work two or more jobs. As I turned the corner into the trailer park, to my utter surprise, more than 30 students were waiting. As soon as they saw the truck they started leaping in the air, yelling my name, and waving their arms in pure joy. As their shouts reached a fever pitch, more children emerged from trailers and started running toward the truck.

Almost every book found a home. If kids could not visit the library, the library would visit them. While I was the person the kids greeted and hugged, this effort was made possible with the help of at least 15 teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) with the Vallivue School District who joined me on site visits. Colleagues with the Vallivue Education Association also signed up. They told me it was a good way for them to stay connected with their students over summer.

Being with students and their families on their turf has been my favorite place to be for the last two summers. I can’t wait to do it again.