Noli Indian School chose national Read Across America Day to launch its new bookmobile service for students. On March 2, Principal Donovan Post made his way to several students’ homes to offer a wide selection of age-appropriate book titles.
“The bookmobile idea came about with us just coming up with ideas about how we can connect to the kids during the lockdown and how we can best use our grant money that was meant to help get kids to read,” Post said. “The idea of being able to meet at houses and follow COVID-19 safety guidelines meant that we could interact with students and get this done.”
Noli, which serves students in grades six through 12, has benefitted from a reading grant for many years allowing the school to purchase several thousand books to keep its library fresh. In past years, staff would make about four shopping trips to replenish books for the school, classrooms and students. This year, a few staff members met one time to purchase $15,000 in books when pandemic restrictions were temporarily relaxed.
Jacquelin Phillips works with middle school students at Noli’s Reading Department and assisted with the book purchasing.
“We bought books for all ages – preschool to adults,” she said. “We wanted to make sure not just students and their siblings got books, but parents and guardians as well.”
Post said the school has used Barnes & Noble (booksellers) for several years because they have been very helpful and supportive of everything the school is trying to do to get students to read more.
Despite having a wide variety of titles for different age groups, Post said it is difficult to keep enough books from the Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series in stock. Noli staff worked at the campus to separate books by age group and reading level so when a student requests a book through their teacher, a pre-sorted box can be loaded into the vehicle for a run to their house to choose from.
“The entire staff and I believe in the importance of reading at a young age,” Post said. “It sets the tone for a young student’s success in school. If a child has difficulties reading by the fourth grade, it will carry through with them well into high school. If we can create a culture at the school where students do not fear holding books that are a lower grade level, and we have a great support system in place, we can help any student find a love of reading. This is what we have been trying to do for the past five years.”
Phillips added that literacy is important for all ages, no matter one’s reading stage.
“Literacy helps develop our reading skills, writing skills and social skills which helps us become well-rounded individuals in society,” she said.
During past “typical” school years, Noli staff was able to offer book-related events, such as BINGO for Books and book giveaway days.
Phillips enjoyed the get-togethers at the Sports Complex, where students and their families would play multiple games of BINGO and win cool prizes and books.
“In addition, Mr. Post would serve pizza and drinks, which was neat because teachers, students and families were able to socialize and have fun,” Phillips said.
Post said all those events were designed to get parents and family members to come down to the school and get involved with their students.
“With the bookmobile, we are able to provide that interaction again,” he said. “COVID-19 has really stopped us in our tracks as student safety has taken priority so it’s just plain fun to see students and their families again while maintaining recommended safety protocols.”
As acting preschool director, Post took boxes of books to Soboba Tribal Preschool so staff and students could enjoy celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday, also on March 2. It was the young children who got the benefit of a gift by choosing a free book to take home with them. There were also some mystery gifts they earned by playing a fishing game with teacher Amber Lopez, based on the Seuss classic: “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”
Kindergarten teacher Antonia Venegas said the bookmobile gave staff the opportunity to see their students in person and ask them questions about what they would be interested in reading.
“We had more than half our class visit,” she said. “We have already followed up with the students who visited, and they said they were excited about their books. Just seeing the children was my favorite part.”
The three-hour event, attended by about 50 students and their families, was part of the school’s week-long celebration of Dr. Seuss.
“Our curriculum for the week was all Dr. Seuss based and we chose a book or two a day to read,” Venegas said. “The kids made their own socks, a ‘wocket’ in their pocket, a hat (from Cat in the Hat) and other fun stuff. We also had rainbow fish and juice to party with on Tuesday.”
Melissa Vera teaches three-year-olds and enjoyed a virtual Dr. Seuss birthday party with her class that consisted of snacks such as “Moose Juice” (Capri Sun), “one fish, two fish” (Goldfish crackers) and “Hop on Pop” (popcorn). She appreciated the bookmobile delivering books to help expand the literacy level for students.
“My favorite part was seeing all the kids come and watch how excited they were to see all the books that were available to them and to see them also excited to grab a mystery give-away gift,” she said. “We asked them how they liked the book they picked and to show us their book on Zoom the following day.”
Post said reading with children at a young age is vital.
“If we can provide great books for parents to read to their children, all the better. It just makes for a great partnership between the school and the community that we serve,” he said.
Phillips said that only two families were allowed into the preschool event area at a time.
“This has been a rough year for our students and all students,” she said. “If we can bring some much-needed distractions and happiness, then we will happily deliver books to students’ houses and to their families.”
During the preschool event and home deliveries, all social distance protocols were observed, and masks were required to be worn by everyone. Staff wore gloves to set up tables filled with books.
“We only served one household at a time,” Post said. “We set up the tables next to our vehicle and used cleaning wipes and other sanitation supplies after each visit. It is a slow process to ensure safety is met but, in the end, we do get to see students again even if it is from six feet away.”
Read Across America, the nation’s largest celebration of reading, was launched in 1998 by the National Education Association (NEA). To learn more, please visit www.nea.org.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians