COVID-19 has changed many people’s summer plans, including Ruth Hill Elementary School’s summer bookmobile.
Ruth Hill Media Specialist Anne Graner said earlier this year she was brainstorming ideas to get more books to more kids through the bookmobile, and then the pandemic happened. Graner, along with second grade teachers Ashley Nelson and Mandy Morris, co-created the Ruth Hill BookDash.
The BookDash is a way to get books to students over the summer while maintaining social distancing and safety recommendations.
The group drafted a proposal that was approved by Ruth Hill Principal Aaron Corley and Assistant Superintendent Marc Guy. Graner said they participated in a virtual training about social distancing and wearing masks.
Graner said teachers identified students that could benefit from receiving books, and they called each student’s parent to get permission to drop the books off. Students were able to keep the books they received.
Nelson, who is also Coweta County’s Teacher of the Year, said they explained the process and safety protocol with parents, and there was no direct contact with students and parents while dropping off the books.
Nelson said students were almost shocked to see their teachers and administrators in their yard.
“Students were excited to see us and excited for school to start back,” she said. “It gave them a sense of normalcy to think about school and to see their teachers.”
Graner said nine Ruth Hill employees, including teachers, support staff and administrators, signed up for a BookDash route. Graner said each route has an average of nine stops.
Graner said it was especially important for the person doing the BookDash to reach out to the parents so they could check in on them, and to set up a delivery time.
“It’s a way to continue the communication with the school and the parents and continue to develop that relationship,” Graner said.
Volunteers committed to at least three book drops with every stop on their route. Graner said they asked the parents what kind of books each student would be interested in and created an Amazon Wish List with specific book titles.
Graner said Foundation Christian Church stepped up to help by purchasing all the books from the Amazon Wish List with monetary donations from church members. She said there was more than $1,000 worth of books on it.
She said other community members and teachers also donated books for students to keep.
“The community always steps up to help our kids succeed and enjoy reading,” Graner said.
Graner said the students were excited when she stopped by their house for the BookDash.
“It was one of those moments where your heart just grows,” Graner said. “The kids were excited and smiling, and we were able to tell them that we love them.”
Graner said the parents have been really appreciative as well, and the ones she spoke with on the phone were thankful that their child will have new books to read.
“Just because you can’t do what you’ve done before, you have to focus on what your motivation is — to keep them excited about reading,” Graner said. “You have to continue the relationship and find a way to continue to say that we care and we’re here for you.”
Ruth Hill Assistant Principal Dwight McDaniel said he’s enjoyed seeing students and parents as he dropped off their books.
“I truly miss interacting with the students on a daily basis and watching their excitement when they achieved their reading goals,” McDaniel said.
He said most of the students were surprised and excited to see him come to their house. McDaniel said the parents were appreciative that the school was still keeping in contact with the families during the pandemic.
“I have one more book drop before we return to school, and I'm looking forward to seeing the kids I missed,” McDaniel said.
This summer would’ve marked the fourth summer in a row Ruth Hill has operated a bookmobile for students.
Graner said right when she began working at Ruth Hill, the school was named to the state’s “Chronically Failing Schools” list. She said the school saw it as an opportunity to make a change.
She said a former Ruth Hill principal, Betty Smith, met with employees at Ruth Hill to help them figure out what they could do to improve. Graner told Smith that she would love to have a summer bookmobile.
Graner got her summer bookmobile after Smith’s husband made a shelf for the back of Smith’s car for the books. She said friends helped them gather books the students could pick out, and they asked teachers which students could really benefit from a visit by the bookmobile.
Graner said they were making 30 stops a week at student’s houses, with teachers helping out.
She said at the end of the summer she was at Ruth Hill putting books back from the bookmobile, and volunteers from Foundation Christian Church asked what she was doing. Graner said she told them about the bookmobile, and they asked how they could help.
Graner told them she wanted an actual bookmobile, and they told her she could use their ice cream van. For the last two summers, she has loaded books on carts in Foundation’s ice cream van to visit students.
She said they especially focused on the students that lived near the school. Graner said they made two main stops, at the school and at a pavilion in one of the subsidized housing areas, where they would have storytellers come and give out ice cream and books.
“It was great, and it was a lot of work,” Graner said. “We had teachers and volunteers from Foundation Christian Church help out and we were able to do a great job.”