Literacy Bus offers unique, fun way for kids to enjoy reading

Published 4:52 pm Friday, May 18, 2018

The Decatur County School System has long been a leading school district when it comes to innovative parent connection and involvement, now they are turning heads across the state with their newest way to reach families on their own turf: the parent, family and school engagement bus.

Six years ago, Dr. Cheryl Guy, parent and family engagement coordinator, saw a photograph of a refurbished bus complete with furniture and accessories; that is when a light bulb went off in her head and she knew the school system needed a traveling, training classroom bus just like this to reach parents.

Guy knew she couldn’t do this without help, so she and federal programs director, April Aldridge reached out to the bus department and got information on how they could begin the process. As they started to dive in, they were stuck without a way to fund their idea.

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While trying to decide what their next move was, Aldridge left for a different position and the plans were handed to newcomer, Kathy Varner. Varner was intrigued with the idea of this mobile way to learn, so she reached out to a parent coordinator at West Bainbridge Elementary. The coordinator was able to find the old band uniform bus, which already had the seats removed. With that, the bus began to take shape again.

Guy spent her time consulting with designers and working on Illustrator and Photoshop to create the exact look she was going for. While working, she came up with the idea of the bus being community funded and community supported. She saw it as a way for the community to buy into the future, and luckily the community shared her interest.

Ronnie Burke with Family Connections was the first to invest in the bus. He applied for a literacy grant, which continued to help fund the process. First Port City Bank, Martin’s Paint and Body and Frank Kaye also sponsored the creation.

The bus works to partner with parents and families and give them tools to better support their children.

“Parent, family and community engagement is just that,” Guy said. “It’s saturating the parents and families with the tools and information to better support that child and that teacher and the district.”

The bus strives to help parents find a way to empower their children to continue seeking information so when a child gets home it’s a continuation of what they learned at school that day.

Some of the lessons they offer parents include knowing who to contact if their child needs help in a subject, how to create a study area for their child, how to download the app that tells their child’s attendance, how to improve their child’s vocabulary and communication skills and others.

The bus does not just park itself at the bus department and call it a day. They try to meet the families in their own community, incase they feel uncomfortable going to the school due to their own bad experience or other reasons. The bus goes to the housing authority, the ballpark, Wal-Mart, Hutto-McIver Homes and wherever it deems necessary.

When children visit the bus with their family, they are given a new book to read. Guy hopes the books never stay on the shelves of the bus. She knows homes that are literacy rich help children do better in the future and increase in their comprehension skills.

The bus also has laptops for parents to use and hotspots so they can use Wi-Fi on their cellphone to download books if necessary.

The bus does not have a set schedule, as it will be getting some work done on it over the summer, but Guy said in the fall they have plans to take it out as much as possible. Superintendent, Tim Cochran has even offered to drive it out in the community once a month.

Guy hopes this bus will teach that everyone has a role in a child’s life and that the teacher is just as a equal as the parent.