It’s not unusual to see a school bus parked outside Sugar Hill Academy of Talent and Career, but the bus stopped there Thursday morning was covered in painted flames.
The Hall County Reading Rocket is a school bus turned bookmobile, which visits eight elementary school areas throughout the summer with books for children and their families to borrow.
“The purpose of the whole summer reading program for Hall County Schools is to keep kids reading for recreation in the summertime,” said Linda Martin, media specialist at Sugar Hill. “We’re trying to instill love of reading just in itself.”
Martin said the Hall County Library System has a summer reading program that’s “very good,” and the schools promote it to their students. But at her school, Sugar Hill, the local public library branch is closed, and many students need another outlet for summer reading.
“There are pockets through the system, especially in the poorer schools, where kids may not have transportation to get to the public library,” she said. “So one of the high schools had students revamp a school bus for this purpose. It’s our rolling community library.”
The Reading Rocket has books for everyone, preschool to adult. It makes four stops each Tuesday and four stops each Thursday in the summer.
On Tuesdays, the bus is in the area of Martin, Myers, Flowery Branch and Friendship elementary schools. On Thursdays, it stops at or near Sugar Hill, Tadmore, Riverbend and Lanier elementary schools.
In some areas, the bus stops at the schools, while other areas have stops in neighborhoods or central community locations. The exact neighborhood locations are provided to students and their families, but are not publicized for the safety of the students.
The bus is open not just to elementary students, but to nearby middle and high school students as well. The interior is lined with shelves, its ceiling painted in multicolored stripes.
“It’s really cool, and we filled it with fun reading,” Martin said. “And that’s the whole purpose of it.”
Sugar Hill teacher Cat Byrd said there are 146 students in summer school at the elementary school. Because the bus is at each stop for just 30 minutes, the school has a rotation so all the kids have equal access to books.
“It’s a great thing and they look forward to it,” Byrd said. “They don’t all get to go every Thursday, but what they’ll do is swap with each other the next week.”
For more information about the Hall summer reading programs, go to http://readingrocks.hallco.org. All schools also have Little Free Libraries on campus where students can exchange books, and the district has more than 2,500 electronic books available for free online. Martin said there is also a state program called Get Georgia Reading with 10,000 e-books.
“The goal is to be keeping kids reading,” she said. “If they don't, they lose up to two months of fluency in one summer, and that adds up over time.”
What schools can do to promote literacy has changed over the years, Martin said, and now school media centers can be both a physical and virtual space.
“We’re trying to have 24/7 availability to our students and our families,” Martin said. “We want families to see that the library is available all the time.”