POWNAL -- Every summer for the past decade, Pownal Elementary School has found a way to ensure reading skills do not digress for the months students cannot access books at school by bringing the books to their front door.
The Pownal Bookmobile, described by paraeducator and organizer Kaitlyn Hunt as a "library on wheels," makes scheduled weekly stops at the homes of students throughout summer vacation.
"It's fun. (I) get to see books that I've never seen before," said Rylie Bates after Hunt and fellow paraeducator Pamela Cuccuini pulled up to her house on Middle Pownal Road Friday in the Bookmobile (also called Hunt's pickup). Rylie, who will enter fourth grade in the fall and generally picks up two books a week, exchanged a book with fun facts about animals she had just completed and was eager to share some of the details she learned in the past week.
"The humps store most of its fat," Rylie said about camels, and then added that red foxes are generally only pregnant for seven weeks before giving birth.
Thanks to the Bookmobile, Rylie's mother, Robin Bates, said her daughter reads more in the summer than she does during the school year.
If it were not for the program stopping at her house every Friday, Bates said her three children would likely read much less in the summer, because her busy work schedule makes it difficult to visit the local library.
"I love to have this come. It's one way for me to make sure while I'm at work they have something else to do, or when I'm home it gives them some quiet time," she said. "I think that if this wasn't coming around, I wouldn't have as much of an option to keep them reading throughout the summer."
Bates said her family has been participating in the Bookmobile for seven years, from the time her oldest son, RJ, was in kindergarten.
In addition to the luxury of the library coming to their house, Bates said Hunt and Cuccuini help the children pick a book at the right ability level and that will be of interest to them.
"These guys do a wonderful job of helping get the books they're interested in," Bates said. "I've actually borrowed some books too," she added, pointing to a small bin of adult reading level books that are loaded into the back of Hunt's pickup bed.
At another stop in the Alta Garden Trailer Park, Ashlynn Grant, who is going into third grade this fall, picked up a book from the Judy B. Jones series, "A Little Monkey Business." Ashlynn said she has read other Judy B. Jones books during the school year, and now she's able to keep exploring the series.
Ashlynn and a neighbor both pick up books each Friday and often read together, she said.
"We enjoy reading it because we get to learn about stuff and we get to explore the books," Ashlynn said. "They have almost every book that we want."
After returning a completed book, children receive a small reward such as a pencil, notebook or bookmark. On Friday, children received cold water and popsicles.
The Bookmobile began 10 years ago when it was first funded through federal money. A few years ago the program was picked up by summer and afterschool grant funds through 21st Century, but this year Hunt said funding was pulled together at the last minute through fundraisers. Hunt was determined to find money for the program she is now in the third year of being a part of because she knows the importance of reading for children.
"This is a way we can actually ensure that the children get the books. Some students aren't able to get to the library, so this just helps them," she said.
At this point, Hunt said there are about 60 children participating in the program this summer, but the number generally reaches close to triple digits by the end of the summer as word spreads. Just two children in Alta Gardens signed up for the first week this summer, but as those two received books other children came out and got excited to borrow books as well. Now there are more than a half dozen who regularly exchange books each week.
"That's the coolest part, is when you get new kids because they're excited," Cuccuini said.
Families of Pownal Elementary students who wish to have books delivered on either Mondays or Friday may sign up by contacting the school.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi