Literacy Bus rolls into LOU Community

Published 10:30 am Friday, April 13, 2018

The Early Childhood and Reading Development Partnership is wheeling in a new way for children in the LOU community to become lifelong readers.

The Literacy Bus Project, which is backed by Oxford and Lafayette County School Districts as well as city and county officials, was announced Thursday after almost a year of planning.

Suzanne Ryals, director of Early Childhood and Reading Development, said the project was inspired by the Moonshot Moment Rocket Literacy Bus out of Indian River County, Florida, which visited Oxford in June 2017.

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“Moonshot Rocket served as an inspiration piece. I had just started this position and talked to the school districts about this being a good project for us,” Ryals said. “It just so happened that Oxford School District had a bus that they were retiring, and so they donated it to the cause of using it as a literacy bus.”

Over the last 10 months, Ryals and her team have been working on refurbishing the bus inside and out. They started by hollowing out the bus, and then gave it a new paint job and a custom-designed wrap, courtesy of Oxford High art teacher Ebony Johnson.

Ryals ended the remodeling project by obtaining her commercial driver’s license, which will allow her to drive the bus all over the county.

The bus won’t be making its rounds until June, but in the meantime, Ryals said she’s placing an emphasis on spreading the word about the bus and collecting books for children to choose from.

“We’ve done book drives, or had other volunteer organizations, clubs within schools, libraries within schools, really tried to network and go out and talk to as many people as we could,” she said. “We share the same cause, and so they’ve been donating books to us. I’ve been collecting them and trying to get them ready for when the bus is ready, so we’ll have them available so we can give a book to kids every time we go somewhere.”

Ryals added that she’s still working on fine-tuning the details of the bus, such as adding a roll-out awning to the side so guests can browse in the shade.

One of the first initiatives for the bus will be distributing books throughout the county. OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey said he believes providing opportunities to promote children’s literacy is paramount to their success.

“The literacy bus is simply another way our community can support its children,” Harvey said. “It gives them access to books, and access means equity. People who live in town or close to city limits have easier access to these resources, but those who live farther out might not, so this is a way to build more equity in Lafayette County.”

Reaching children in a variety of settings, especially during summer months, is a key goal of the program. Parents can expect to see the literacy bus at various stops across the county, including daycare centers, summer camps and community centers.

Recent studies show that, on average, children lose 2 months of reading skills over summer vacation. However, working for as little as 2 or 3 hours per week during the summer is all it takes to prevent learning loss.

Dr. Angela Rutherford, professor in the department of education and director of the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction at the University of Mississippi, said keeping children’s minds active during summer months is a key to academic success.

The first step in that direction, she said, is making sure parents are onboard with the program and understand the importance of encouraging their children to read.

“This provides an opportunity that these kids might not normally have, if they get to come in and listen to a read-aloud,” Rutherford said. “It impacts school readiness, and it also is an opportunity to meet parents where they are. We know that many times parents want to help, they’re just not sure exactly what they need to do. I see this as an overall community outreach.”

Those interested in learning more about the Literacy Bus Project or donating books are welcome to visit the Oxford School District’s Central Office located at 409 Washington Ave.