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Bus Driver Turns Daily Ride into Reading Time

Book-filled Backpacks Await Each Rider


When Jenna Rykse saw pictures of students reading on a bus during a Reading Now Network conference, the Sparta Area Schools Reading Specialist knew exactly who needed to know about the idea.

Enter Brenda Bostelaar, bus driver turned literacy coach, elementary school volunteer and an overall fun and inspiring human, according to those who know her. For Bostelaar, the idea of installing a book-filled backpack in each seat was a perfect way to get more students reading outside of school. For months now she’s given the idea wheels, by attaching book-filled backpacks in every row on her bus.

Student Feedback on Bus Ride Reading

  • “Reading is like going to another realm on the way to school” – Katie Humble
  • “Reading is like you have a new gift to life every new book you get” – Liliana Daaser
  • “I Like reading in the morning because it refreshes our mind” – Jesus Morena
  • “Every book is an adventure waiting to happen” – Jacob Serba
  • “Reading is like dreaming with your eyes. It gets you smarter, entertainment, and happier” – Kelsey Brott
  • “I like to read to kids because most of them don’t know how to read and it makes me feel good” – Alyssa Horrigan

“The No. 1 way to get students reading is to put the books right in front of them,” she said. And her experience has shown her that having a book available first thing in the morning when students are stillwaking up has been a great way to activate their brains.

Cohen Grover agrees. “Reading is good for waking your brain up,” said the fourth-grader.

Rykse said school staffers hope it impacts students’ reading levels, and that once they get in the habit of reading on the bus, they will realize they can fit reading into other parts of their day outside of school.

Rykse applied for a grant that, if approved, will help purchase books and 520 more backpacks to be installed in all of the buses that service Ridgeview and Appleview elementaries. Bostelaar and Rykse will coordinate training for other bus drivers once the program expands. Bostelaar said that she has been approached by coworkers who are curious about the experience and are eager to follow suit on their buses.

Reading Pals

In addition to silent reading, Bostelaar has students pair up with younger peers for partnered reading. She keeps a chart informing students who their reading partner is for that day. Partnered reading helps the younger students learn to read while providing the older students a source of pride, she explained. “Every time they rotate readers, they make a new friend. They inspire each other and feel good about what they are doing.”

Reading specialist Jenna Rykse, left, with bus driver turned literacy coach Brenda Bostelaar

Case in point: Alyssa Horrigan. “I like to read to kids because most of them don’t know how to read and it makes me feel good,” said the fourth-grader.

To sweeten the deal, Bostelaar hands out fake bucks for students who come prepared to read. Sometimes she brings in treats to exchange with the fake money.

“I just give my bonus bucks to my little sister,” said fourth-grader Emiliano Durand, who said he enjoys reading with his younger sister on the bus, and is thankful for the extra bonding time with her. “Mrs. Brenda is a really good bus driver. We appreciate good bus drivers.”

Emiliano’s increased interest in reading caught the attention of Appleview special education teacher Mary Kuzawa, who said that it has been difficult to get some young readers to put in the extra time outside of school.

“For a struggling reader to say they enjoy reading, especially on a bus, is a good thing,” she said Kuzawa. “I’d love to support (Bostelaar’s) program any way we can.”

Kuzawa said the initiative aligns perfectly with the practices she has been implementing in her lessons, as outlined by Kent ISD’s Literacy Coaches Network.

“There’s a lot of time wasted,” she said, explaining that it is important to increase reading during “times you may not expect students reading.”

Ridgeview Elementary students hold up their bus ride reads (courtesy photo)

A Safer Ride

Any time students are spending extra time reading is a good thing, said Bostelaar, but one bonus is a much quieter and safer bus ride.

“Student behavior has definitely gotten better,” she said. “They stay seated. Reading keeps them from picking on each other. They don’t even want the radio on anymore.”

The list of benefitsfor students goes on and on, but Bostelaar is just thrilled to be able to transcend the morning commute into something more beneficial, both for the students and herself.

“The students inspire me because they tell me about their stories, they’re always teaching me something,” she said. “They are excited, and that excites me.”

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Adrian Hirsch
Adrian Hirsch has been with SNN since its launch, starting as an intern from Grand Valley State University where he received a degree in broadcasting and business. After the internship, Adrian was brought on as staff to continue reporting, editing and publishing stories for SNN and Kent ISD. Adrian has been active with community radio station WYCE for years, served as Non-Profit Coordinator for GRTV, and currently works as the Web Producer for SNN.

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