Check­ing out, check­ing up

Schools’ mo­bile li­braries more than just books.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - LAURINDA JOENKS

Bree­tany Gar­cia came run­ning out of her ground floor Spring­dale apart­ment, her black hair flow­ing be­hind her, her snag­gle-tooth smile beam­ing from across a grassy lawn.

Janelle Miller, the school coun­selor at Sonora El­e­men­tary School, was greeted with a big hug.

Next, Gar­cia’s cousin, Me­lanie Gar­cia, wear­ing a pink-striped bathing suit, came ten­ta­tively.

Miller and Pam Sweeney, an in­struc­tional as­sis­tant for the school’s spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion class­rooms, manned the Sonora mo­bile li­brary one Tues­day evening last month. The van car­ried books for all el­e­men­tary read­ing lev­els to apart­ment com­plexes and neigh­bor­hoods where Sonora stu­dents live.

Chil­dren are al­lowed to check out two books and ex­change them for oth­ers on the mo­bile li­brary’s re­turn trip.

Bret­tany, who will start first grade in the fall, chose I Love Shadow and an I Spy book. Me­lanie, who will join the school’s pre-kinder­garten pro­gram, chose There Was an Old Lady Who Swal­lowed a Fly and Sneezy the Snow­man.

Fer­nando Bautista then came to the li­brary, but he wasn’t much in­ter­ested in the read-aloud. He wanted to chose books on the fifth-grade level that he would

en­joy read­ing by him­self. He picked four, but set­tled on two.

“I picked a fic­tion and a non­fic­tion,” he said, show­ing a Flat Stan­ley book and a bi­og­ra­phy of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barak Obama. He said he en­joys Flat Stan­ley and chose the book on Obama be­cause “pretty much, I don’t know any­thing about him.”


Stu­dents at Sonora El­e­men­tary School are asked to read 12 books on their read­ing lev­els dur­ing the sum­mer months when they are not in school, said Prin­ci­pal Regina Stew­man.

Re­search has shown stu­dents of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence a re­gres­sion of their learn­ing over the sum­mer months, Stew­man re­ported. “If they are not prac­tic­ing as they’re learn­ing, they can ac­tu­ally lose some of that learn­ing. They must re­gain it af­ter school be­gins again and aren’t able to move on to new learn­ing un­til they have re­gained it.”

Track­ing data on her own stu­dents dur­ing the first years of the mo­bile li­brary, Stew­man said the stu­dents who used the mo­bile li­brary did show less sum­mer re­gres­sion than the stu­dents who didn’t. “It’s not sci­en­tific, but it was the kids who came to the mo­bile li­brary who con­sis­tently had less or lim­ited re­gres­sion,” she said.

“Kids need to read, read, read,” agreed Justin Swope, prin­ci­pal of Lee El­e­men­tary School in Spring­dale, which op­er­ates its own mo­bile li­brary. “What you see is, the kids who are re­peat­edly there are bet­ter read­ers.”

Both schools started their mo­bile li­brary sea­sons with ral­lies at the end of the year to get stu­dents ex­cited about read­ing.

En route and in a hurry to get his daugh­ter to gym­nas­tics lessons, Scott Con­rad stopped the car when he saw the Sonora mo­bile li­brary in his neigh­bor­hood. Their sched­ule was tight, but Kaylee Con­rad, a third-grader, jumped out in her leo­tard and chose Magic School Bus and the Gi­ant Gem. “It’s fun to read and it teaches you about stuff,” she said of the book.

“I like the pro­gram,” Con­rad said. “She’s been part of it ever since kinder­garten. It’s great to see them keep­ing ac­tive and keep­ing up with their aca­demics. She reads to us nearly ev­ery night be­fore she goes to bed.”


In an­other neigh­bor­hood, three chil­dren waited out­side their house, know­ing the mo­bile li­brary was com­ing that day.

As the van pulled by, Bran­don Per­aza, a fifth-grader, Amy Per­aza, a third-grader, and David Per­aza, a third-grader, held out their books, ask­ing for more. Miller told the kids to tell their mother where

they were go­ing and meet the teach­ers at the play­ground. “We were wait­ing all that time,” Amy said.

The kids jumped in their bi­cy­cles and beat the li­brary to the play­ground.

Next came Si­mena Perez, a first-grader with a big smile on her face. She left with her lit­tle arms full of Clifford the Big Red Dog and ran back down the street to­ward home.

“We have lots of chal­lenges in our at­ten­dance zone,” Miller said, with a 30-minute drive re­quired to get some stu­dents from their houses in ru­ral ar­eas to school. And with many par­ents work­ing, stu­dents just don’t have the op­por­tu­nity to use the pub­lic li­brary to get books for sum­mer read­ing.

Lee El­e­men­tary is closer to the li­brary, but the pop­u­la­tion is sim­i­lar to that of Sonora’s in terms of poverty lev­els and non-English­s­peak­ing homes.

So the Sonora and Lee mo­bile li­braries visit ar­eas in which their stu­dents bod­ies are con­cen­trated. For oth­ers, Stew­man and Miller con­tinue to brain­storm for a so­lu­tion. But stu­dents and par­ents also are in­vited to come to the school to choose books.

“We have 700 kids,” Stew­man said. “Sadly, it doesn’t pro­vide all our chil­dren with books.”

Swope said his school’s pro­gram serves about 100 kids.

“We have par­ents who will go where we are,” Miller said. “They will find us.”

Thou­sands of books for the mo­bile li­braries have been pur­chased through grant money. Lee of­fi­cials took the money to a lo­cal used book store, where books cost just $1, to re­stock the li­brary. Books that needed to be “re­tired” were given to stu­dents, Swope said.

Do­na­tions brought Sonora its

small SUV and the au­to­mo­bile’s sign for stu­dent safety. Swope in­her­ited his school’s mo­bile li­brary from Stew­man, but he wanted big­ger and bet­ter. So he ac­cessed a used school bus from the dis­trict, and do­na­tions pro­vided for book­shelves and even air con­di­tion­ing, he said.

Other schools through­out North­west Arkansas op­er­ate sim­i­lar mo­bile li­braries.

Stu­dents do re­turn most of the books, even if not to the mo­bile li­brary, the prin­ci­pals re­ported. Some stu­dents re­turn books and teach­ers find oth­ers in back­packs as the school year be­gins, Stew­man said. And some fam­i­lies move away but re­turn the books via mail.

“They are very thought­ful, and we haven’t had a huge loss,” she said.

“I say I’d rather lose a book than a reader,” she con­tin­ued. “If they keep it, and it’s on a shelf, they might pick it up and read it again, or a younger sib­ling might read it. Then that book is serv­ing its pur­pose.”


Miller drove the mo­bile li­brary to the apart­ment com­plex swim­ming pool, an­nounc­ing through the SUV’s sound sys­tem where the li­brary was go­ing. A num­ber of Sonora stu­dents were cool in the pool and not re­ally in­ter­ested in read­ing at the mo­ment.

“C’mon, Malachi. Come get some books and a snack pack. You can go back and swim,” Miller called to a stu­dent.

Soon, kids came rac­ing out of the pool. Drip­ping wet, they quickly picked out books and bags of snacks. Just as quickly, they raced back to the pool af­ter putting their books on chairs away from the wa­ter.

“At least they’re smart enough

to put them some­place they won’t get wet,” Sweeney said, ex­plain­ing that lessons on how to treat a book were part of the mo­bile li­brary’s sum­mer kick­off.

“It’s more than just the book,” Stew­man said about the mo­bile li­brary. “It gives us a chance to check on our kids.”

Stew­man and Miller worked at Lee El­e­men­tary prior to their tenures at Sonora. Stew­man told of a lit­tle girl who was miss­ing from the reg­u­lar li­brary run, so teach­ers asked where she was. They learned she had been bit­ten by a snake. The teach­ers vis­ited the home and saw her leg swelling.

Work­ing through the school’s re­sources, Stew­man and Miller ar­ranged med­i­cal care for the girl, ex­plained the process for fill­ing a pre­scrip­tion to her par­ents and even the im­por­tance of tak­ing the medicine as di­rected. “It was an ESL fam­ily,” Stew­man said. “And we were able to pro­vide some par­ent­ing skills.”

“It’s a co­he­sive re­la­tion­ship,” Stew­man con­tin­ued. “We don’t want the kids to think we have for­got­ten them. We meet our kids with a friendly face, which they will see when they re­turn to school. We might meet chil­dren and get them en­rolled in kinder­garten or pre-K, if their par­ents haven’t done that. And we will know if a kid moves in, or sud­denly moves away and we can find out why and if ev­ery­thing is OK.”

The Sa­mar­i­tan House pro­vides “snack packs” weekly dur­ing the school year for stu­dents liv­ing with food in­se­cu­rity to take home to eat over the week­end. The pro­gram con­tin­ues through the sum­mer, and these schools dis­trib­ute these snack packs through their mo­bile li­brary pro­grams.


Miller sat on the grass of the apart­ment com­plex’s play­ground and opened one of Me­lanie’s choices and be­gan read­ing aloud. “There was an old lady who swal­lowed a fly …

“What do you think about that,” Miller asked the girls. Me­lanie sat mo­tion­less with rapt at­ten­tion, but Bret­tany bore an ex­pres­sion of shock.

Miller read on. “What do bag and brag do,” she asked, then pointed out the words rhyme, one of the ways stu­dent learn to de­ci­pher words they don’t know. An adult read­ing aloud and shar­ing thoughts while read­ing the book also helps stu­dents’ com­pre­hen­sion skills.

Next, Mil­ller picked up Sneezy the Snow­man. “What do you think is go­ing to hap­pen,” she asked be­fore read­ing.

Bret­tany, dressed to beat the sum­mer’s heat with bare feet and brightly col­ored shorts and shirt, replied, “I think he’s go­ing to melt!”

NWA Democrat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

Bree­tany Gar­cia, 6, lis­tens as Janelle Miller reads Sneezy the Snow­man last month at the Mon­tecito Springs apart­ment com­plex in Spring­dale. Miller and in­struc­tional as­sis­tant Pam Sweeney brought the mo­bile li­brary of Sonora El­e­men­tary School to the area where many of the school’s stu­dents live.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

Amy Per­aza, 8, chooses a book dur­ing the mo­bile li­brary’s stop at the play­ground on Com­mons Av­enue in Spring­dale. Sonora El­e­men­tary School — and other schools through­out North­west Arkansas — started the pro­gram to keep stu­dents read­ing dur­ing the sum­mer months. Re­search has shown if stu­dents don’t prac­tice their learn­ing, they will lose it.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

Alyssa John, a ris­ing sec­ond-grader at Sonora El­e­men­tary, heads for home with her book selections and snacks from the school’s mo­bile li­brary stopped in The Com­mons neigh­bor­hood. Many of the school’s stu­dents have no ac­cess the pub­lic li­brary for books in the sum­mer, so the school takes books to them.

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