He circled warily, his small bike wobbly on the grassy lawn of the North Side apartment complex. He glanced at the boxes of books as he circled ever closer. Finally, pushing his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle helmet firmly on his head, he approached the blanket where a teacher from Shiloh Hills Elementary School sat ready to read him a story while he slurped on an orange Popsicle.
The books, teachers and Popsicles arrived via the SHOWmobile – or, Shiloh Hills on Wheels – summer library program.
Each week, a silver Mead School District van rolls into apartment complexes or mobile home parks in the Shiloh Hills neighborhood, bringing boxes of books, a cooler of Popsicles and an opportunity for teachers to read with kids who may not get much reading support during the summer.
“Every September we ask the kids, ‘Did you read during the summer?’ ” said Shiloh Hills’ kindergarten teacher David Browning. “And every year so many kids would say, ‘I don’t have any books at home.’ ”
He said many families in low-income areas don’t have the time or transportation to take kids to the library, and purchasing new books isn’t an option.
“We have the highest number of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunch in the district,” Shiloh Hills Principal Laura Ketcham-Duchow said. “When we have summer reading programs at the school, they’re typically not effective because we just get kids who can come to the building.”
So, this year they decided to keep the school library open one morning a week through July, but they also decided to take reading to the kids.
They held book drives at local businesses, teachers purged their personal and classroom libraries, and Midway Elementary donated boxes of books. On a recent morning, those boxes overflowed with picture books, chapter books, and even board books for younger brothers and sisters.
Browning and a small group of teachers spread out blankets at their second apartment complex stop of the day. “Every time we go out we have six to eight teachers,” he said. “It shows how much the staff at Shiloh cares about the kids. It’s about being a constant in these kids’ lives.”
They waited in the morning sunshine, but at first there were no takers. However, it turns out if you bring the books and the Popsicles, eventually the kids will come. Soon, children jostled for places next to teachers on the blankets, holding newly chosen books.
Brayden Fox, 5, approached, accompanied by his dad. Though not yet in kindergarten, he was already reading and sat happily with his Popsicle, pointing out letters in an alphabet book.
“That’s amazing!” Browning said.
Eight-year-old Irina Jecova and her friend Veronica Ternovich, 9, pored over the books, finding several in a series. Jecova clutched “Mrs. Lilly is Silly,” while her friend grabbed “Mrs. Roopy is Loopy.” “We’re going to trade when we’re done,” Jecova said.
Ketcham-Duchow has been thrilled with the success of the SHOWmobile. “We’ll do this again next year.”
For Browning, the greatest satisfaction has been watching children walk away with books in their hands. “You’re building your own library, now,” he told them. “Go put them on your bookshelf.”
And this fall he hopes more kids will be able to tell him what they read over the summer.
“This is a way to get books into kids’ hands and hopefully develop a lifelong love of reading.”
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