By Sue Moore
Summer is usually the time for kids to run and play outdoors, unstructured and free. What is known to educators is that students in the early grades suffer from “summer slide”. That doesn’t mean they don’t have playground equipment to utilize. It means they often forget what they learned most recently in school. When they come back in the fall, these lessons in reading, math and English have to be covered all over again.
Schools have long sought ways to keep the learning light burning for children over the summer months, particularly when it comes to reading skills. If students can read and comprehend, they can fly more successfully through their lessons in the fall.
One way is to offer summer school. But not enough children can take advantage of this opportunity in the Vicksburg school district according to Superintendent Keevin O’Neill. “We have a need to address this issue where kids are during the summer in their development. It seemed like a bookmobile could be part of the answer. But how to fund it and get it operative?” In stepped the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, chartered 36 years ago to provide some of the extras for the school that taxpayers didn’t have to support.
“The answer for the Foundation board to the “summer slide” seemed like a bookmobile on wheels,” said Lucas Hillard, vice-present of the board. “It could come directly to where the kids are and make reading fun and exciting, almost as good as seeing the ice cream wagon round the corner to their house.” Thus was born The Big Read Machine to serve kids in the three Vicksburg elementary schools during the summer of 2019 and beyond.
An older school bus that was still in good condition was taken out of service and provided to the cause. A plea went out to parents and teachers to donate books of all types to be placed in the bus. Literally tons of them were dropped off at each elementary. They have been sorted by volunteers and school librarians, while still other, newer books have been purchased that are grade-related by the Foundation. The bus has been painted red and white so it is easily identifiable when it comes jingling down the many streets in the 115 mile school district.
Lots of volunteer hours have already gone into the building of the bus. Frederick Construction has offered to help with remodeling the interior so the books can be shelved and will travel without falling off. The cost of all this work will be born by the school’s foundation to the tune of an estimated $40,000. for the start-up. Another $2,500 will be needed each summer to keep it running. The Foundation exists on donations to a great extent and this project is no exception according to Bob Willhite, president of the board. Raising the necessary funds will be his duty as he finishes out his second term in office after being on the board for seven years. They are asking for corporate, service clubs and individual donations to support the project. The money needs to be in the Foundation coffers when the Big Read Machine starts rolling by the middle of June, Willhite said. The website is http://www.vicksburgcommunityschools.org/vcs-foundation/. Further information is available from Beth O’Roark at 269-321-1006.