Sparta — For years, Sparta’s bookmobile went unused, stuck in a parking spot at the school district, with no one to guide it.
That changed during the summer, when a pair of enterprising school leaders revved up the engine to get books back in the hands of students. Now, following a successful relaunch, the Books on the Run mobile library appears to be back for good.
Erin Kavanagh, director of student services; and Jodi West, community school coordinator through Kent School Services Network, revived the program over three events in July and August. Close to 150 books were handed out, a strong enough showing to signal a permanent return for Books on the Run.
The program had been dormant for four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but prior to that, it was a hit among students and parents from its 2016 inception to summer 2019, its last season before COVID hit.
Books on the Run Relaunched
The bookmobile was originally overseen by former Title I and Grant Program Director Deb DuFour, who left detailed instructions when she retired.
In January, as Kavanagh was transitioning into her role as director of student services, she took note of the bookmobile trailer, which was “just sitting in the parking lot,” she said, waiting for someone to pick up where DuFour left off.
Kavanagh said bringing the bookmobile back was “on the radar” when West approached her about doing just that.
“We met and just explored,” West recalled. “We kind of, at the same time, had the vision of wanting to do something with this for the summer.”
West said KSSN visits mobile home communities in the area during the summer, due to the dense student population that can be reached in a given stop. Special summer programming is brought to students’ neighborhoods in an effort to keep up a relationship with kids and families.
Books on the Run seemed like a perfect fit for that kind of activity. West had two mobile home parks in mind — Glenwood Estates and Riverview Sparta Manufactured Housing Community — that she thought would make great book drive destinations.
Kavanagh suggested doing a trial run on July 14 at Appleview Elementary’s Before and After Childcare program. That first drive brought in about 25 kids, Kavanagh said, so she and West moved forward with stops at Glenwood Estates on Aug. 1 and at Riverview on Aug. 3.
It’s a Hit!
The program was, once again, a success.
“Students came and checked out one to two books, and they were really excited,” Kavanagh said. “It’s like a mobile library — no card needed.”
The bookmobile itself features thousands of items for all ages, Kavanagh said. There’s something for everyone, from picture books to things parents might read.
“We had … a lot of parents walking through with a kid, which was neat to see, because you wonder how many opportunities they’d have in the summer to come and walk through a library,” West said.
Kavanagh said the impact of Books on the Run was evident as kids returned for the 2023-24 school year with books in hand.
“The fact that kids came to school still excited about these books they’d read over the summer … speaks volumes,” she said, adding that students also impressed her with their respect and care for the books themselves.
“They didn’t just get shoved under the bed or forgotten about. They really did read them, and they took care of them, and they brought them back.”
Both Kavanagh and West said in addition to keeping students invested in reading, Books on the Run also offers an opportunity to maintain important community connections.
“It’s mostly about practicing reading, and continuing to foster the love for reading, but (it’s) also really doing some checks on our students and keeping them engaged and connected to our school community,” Kavanagh said.
Added West: “And building the relationship with the parents in their neighborhoods, too. It’s just that relationship of the neighborhood knowing the school staff cares about you; we’re here, we love you and we can’t wait to see you come fall.”
The program’s successful summer will, hopefully, lead to an expansion in the future. Kavanagh and West said they fully intend to bring Books on the Run back, with more stops and more opportunities for kids, in summer 2024.
The bookmobile relies on donations to “continuously provide fresh material.” Many donations come from retiring teachers who are clearing out their classrooms, but public contributions are also welcome. Those interested in making a contribution can contact Kavanagh at (616) 887-8253 ext. 5551, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.