Words on wheels: Janesville teachers bring books to kids
The tanned, shirtless 7-year-old then circled on his bike, looking wary.
“Dylan, where were you today? I missed you at summer school,” teacher Paul Stengel called out.
Stengel tried to lure Dylan to the crates of books that teachers pulled from the back of a car onto the parking lot Thursday at the Rockvale Mobile Home Park, south of Janesville.
This is the Jackson Summer Bookmobile, a volunteer effort of Janesville Jackson Elementary School teachers.
Dylan doesn’t like summer school, said his mom, Deborah Dubanowich, but he devours books about volcanoes. He exhausted the selections at the Beloit Public Library, she said.
Teachers dig into the plastic crates of books and find a volcano book.
Dylan said he also likes the Clifford the Big Red Dog books. He reads at home, he said, “because I have to.”
Dubanowich says she reads with him. Sometimes, she catches him reading alone.
Dubanowich said she’s pleased that Dylan’s reading skills improved during first grade, and she doesn’t want him to forget them.
“He acts tough,” but he’s a nice kid, Stengel said later about Dylan. “He’s too cool to admit he reads or likes school.”
Another mother, Jodi Sowatzke, brought her children, Jacob, 8, and Jenna, 7. Jacob grabbed books on magic tricks, makings masks, disguises and one called “Fun with Paper.”
Jenna prefers Winnie the Pooh.
“She’ll read all of these by the end of the day,” her mother said. “They love the bookmobile. It’s the best thing they ever did.”
The teachers show up at three mobile home parks and one high-density apartment complex every Tuesday and Thursday. They average about 30 children per day, said Stengel, who organized the project.
“That’s 30 kids that wouldn’t normally be getting books,” Stengel said. “We’d like it to be more.”
The group targets Jackson kids, but any child who shows up can take books. The kids must return books in order to get new ones, but there’s no effort to register the withdrawals as a regular library would to.
All of the books were donated. About $1,000 worth of new books came from the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation. About $600 in new books came from the Delta Kappa Gamma Society of Janesville, Stengel said. More came from a school book drive and from some teachers’ churches.
“We were just blown away by how many books were donated,” said teacher-volunteer Cheri Appel.
Stengel said he wasn’t sure how teachers would react to the idea of volunteering over the summer after the difficult school year. Teachers became the focus of a statewide political battle and faced the prospect of local layoffs, he noted. But he was pleased at how his colleagues embraced the idea.
The program uses a room at Jackson to store the books, but it’s not a district program. Volunteers bring their cars and pay for gas and the icy sweets they distribute to the young readers.
Stengel said he and fellow Title 1 teacher Kerrie Tisdale were frustrated last year after they worked hard to help kids catch up in reading, only to see the knowledge drain away over the summer.
“They were back at Square One. We had to get them caught up to where they should be because they were not reading all summer,” Stengel said.
Experts say children living in poverty are more likely to lose reading skills over the summer than children who don’t. Jackson serves a high percentage of children in poverty.
The bookmobile tries to combat the summer slide, but the visits also help teachers maintain relationships with the kids and their parents, Stengel said.
Some kids approached shyly during a visit to the Rockvale Mobile Home Park on Thursday. Others ran up to hug teachers they recognized.
Some kids looked for certain kinds of books. Others were like 10-year-old Maria Villafuerte, who said she likes to read “everything.”
-- The Jackson School bookmobile runs Tuesday and Thursday afternoons through the summer, if it doesn’t rain. Two vehicles deliver the books, with first stops, around 12:45 p.m. at the Rockvale Mobile Home Park and on the south side of the 600-700 block of Kellogg Avenue. Subsequent stops are at the Jacobs Mobile Home Park and the Woodland Heights Mobile Home Park. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Lincoln students, too: Asbury United Methodist Church and Lincoln Elementary School teachers are holding a bookmobile through the end of July. The program runs from 1 to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the school, 1821 Conde St., Janesville. The bookmobile had been stopping at other locations but now will be at Lincoln only.