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The Book Trunk to roll into town
Gainesville High construction students work inside an old Gainesville City Schools bus as the class converts the old vehicle into a bookmobile.

When you can’t go to the library, the library can now come to you.

“It’s an exciting project for this system,” Gainesville Middle School Media Specialist Lee Ann Pittman said at a recent school board meeting. “I can’t wait.”

That exciting project is a bookmobile, deemed “The Book Trunk” by some of the middle school’s eighth-grade art students. Pittman is organizing the roving library to travel to city neighborhoods this summer.

She had an inkling of the idea since she started with the middle school last year, and was galvanized into action after learning about the Hall County School District’s “Reading Rocket” bookmobile.

“I had some books that I had been collecting from various things,” Pittman said. “From Scholastic, I had some book donations. And I thought well, I’ve got a small collection started and I could really do more. I had some other ideas.”

She began asking about the potential of getting a bus; once that was secured, everything began to fall into place.

“That was the biggest hurdle, was getting the bus,” she said.

Eighth-grade honors art students will paint and decorate the bus, while high school construction students will build shelves on the inside.

Pittman said she anticipates a start date sometime in early June, and plans to hit the Harrison Square, Melrose, Ridgecrest, Linwood and Atlanta Street communities.

“Those are what I’m starting with,” she said. “And I’ll add more. I just don’t know how long it will take us at each stop.”

She hopes to be on the road no later than the second week of June, and plans to visit the neighborhoods on a rotating basis every other week.

“The bus is going to be going out one time per week all summer,” Pittman said. “That day right now has not been designated.”

The Book Trunk will be staffed by volunteers, likely other media specialists and teachers from the city school system. Teachers are looking forward to the opportunity to get out in the communities and connect with their students outside of school walls.

“All the elementary schools are so excited about it,” Pittman said. “Teachers are getting excited about it, and the word is just barely out there right now.”

Pittman still needs books, and will take them either new or slightly used. There will be a small section for adults on the bus, but primarily they’ll be serving elementary-age children.

“I really see the focus being kindergarten through eighth grade, being my target audience,” Pittman said. “I definitely hope to reach some high school students but when they see that book bus coming, I don’t foresee a lot of high school students coming to me.

“But elementary and middle school students, I really hope I can draw those students out to the bus and get the reading materials into their hands.”

Right now, she is collecting books for all ages but needs some more elementary-level books.

Pittman and Fair Street School Inquiry Specialist Amy Hamilton both said summer learning loss is real, and it is cumulative. They said they’re hopeful this initiative will help children stay fresh in their reading abilities.

“The more we can keep our kids reading over the summer, the more likely they can maintain what they learned from the year before,” Hamilton said. “Summer reading loss is cumulative. It adds up from year to year to year. It doesn’t go away.

“Our main goal is to help children maintain their reading gains so that they don’t lose that progress forever.”

Information from United Way states students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of a summer vacation, while low-income children experience greater summer learning loss.

The point being made is that not everyone has the means to get to the library or bookstore over the summer. This way, children and their parents will have access to books throughout the summer.

“Reading, without a doubt, it sets the bar for everything else in school and in life,” Pittman said. “Whether you’re a student coming into kindergarten, whether you’re a third-grader or a fifth-grader ... reading sets the bar on how you’re going to do in school from this point forward. The more you read, the better you’re going to do in school, in your classes, just across the board.

“I feel like, in order to do that we have to have those reading materials out there.”