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Texas School District Gears Up for Literacy Bus Rollout This Summer

An innovative idea to improve reading and writing achievements for students of all economic backgrounds is set to bring a local Texas community together through a shared love of student success.

Tyler Independent School District (ISD), the largest school district in northeast Texas, encompasses 193 square-miles across a total of 36 campuses and auxiliary facilities. In a normal school year, every summer the Junior League of Tyler holds a week-long reading camp for students. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions this past summer, the camp was not able to be held. The idea for the Literacy Bus was born.

“Sparking a love of reading is one of the most important ways to foster a spirit of education amongst our youth and equip our students with the necessary literacy skills that they need to take control of their destiny and fulfill their potential,” Jennifer Hines, executive director of communications, told School Transportation News.

This spring the Junior League of Tyler is holding a book drive to help fill the Literacy Bus with books to give and lend to children in the district. It is expected to start rolling this summer.

“There are many opportunities for expansion to include things like a summer literacy and lunch program or even a mobile pre-K program,” Hines added. “Talk about meeting the students where they are.”

She said that while the program itself is still being developed, the Literacy Bus will eventually travel into neighborhoods where it’s most needed. Certified school bus drivers or teachers who have their commercial driver’s licenses will drive the bus, while staff and volunteers will be onboard to assist students with different reading programs.

“For example, we may team up with the Junior League of Tyler in the summer to bring reading stops to different neighborhoods,” Hines said. “Then, during the school year, we may take the Literacy Bus around to different elementary schools and staff will help students make their way through the bus and use the interactive tools inside.”

The bus is designed to provide high-quality literacy resources to encourage family reading throughout the Tyler ISD community year-round, Hines said. It will also aim to support district-wide book distribution.

“The goal is to expand access to literacy development initiatives for low-income students by providing literacy activities and parental engagement to increase academic performance of students in reading and language arts,” Hines added. “Due to concerns stemming from COVID-19, Tyler ISD is experiencing a significant reduction in the number of students enrolled in early education programs. Benchmark data shows lower levels of student performance that administrators contribute to what researchers call the ‘Pandemic Slide.’”

A Community & District Project

The Literacy Bus was made possible through the Grants for Great Ideas Program, which began with the creation of the Tyler ISD Foundation in 1990. That following year, 16 teacher incentive grants of up to $500 each were used to implement teaching projects.

“Now 30 years later, the Tyler ISD Foundation remains focused on encouraging and facilitating innovative and creative instructional approaches designed to support student achievement and classroom enrichment,” Hines said, adding that this year the foundation awarded 29 grants totaling $90,000.

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Different district departments are involved in getting the Literacy Bus up and running and are helping fund different aspects. For instance, the transportation department is donating the school bus and the maintenance and operations department is donating material and expertise for the build-out. The technology department is donating three Chromebooks and curriculum and instruction is donating money to purchase teaching materials that to go inside the bus. Meanwhile, career and technology center students will assist with interior design and layout.

Initial retrofitting of the school bus included removing the seats and rear heater. An A/C unit will be installed on the roof with a generator under the bus and an awning will be installed on the entrance side of the bus. The Tyler ISD Foundation also helped fund a portion of the generator that will power the Literacy Bus while it’s at stops.

“Equity and access to high-quality books must be a priority to achieve our literacy goals,” Hines said. “Our hope is that each year, the Tyler ISD Literacy Bus program will work toward ensuring that every child has access to books during the summer months and year-round.”

Hines added the bus will also help improve student achievement on standardized literacy assessments that engages not only students but also families and the entire community.

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