By Delaney Runge
“There’s a Bus on Martha Washington Square!” said an email from Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Sara Clarke-De Reza that was sent to the Washington College community on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
The colorful bus’s presence in the center of campus “marks the welcome back celebration for The Busload of Books Tour, a year-long national project to promote literacy and raise awareness of the challenges facing our nation’s public schools,” according to Dr. Clarke-De Reza’s email.
This year-long tour was coordinated by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, an author-illustrator duo from Chestertown, Md.
“They wanted to travel to all 50 states and visit Title I eligible schools, do a book giveaway and assembly to get kids excited about reading, writing, and becoming authors and illustrators,” Associate Professor of Education Dr. Bridget Bunten said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title I “provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.”
To culminate their 350-day endeavor, Swanson and Behr presented their work to the community in the Alonzo G. and Virginia Gent Decker Theatre.
Junior Alexa Draper learned about the Bus Load of Books program from some of her professors, like Associate Professor of Art History Dr. Benjamin Tilghman and Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Nick Garcia.
“I actually come from a Title I school myself, so when I was learning that they were giving Title I schools these books and these opportunities, it was really nice to see,” Draper said.
Swanson and Behr’s presentation started out discussing the opportunity that they wanted to give to students within Title I schools, who may not normally have the resources to bring authors and illustrators to speak with their students.
“Hosting an author and illustrator is expensive. We noticed that we were only getting invited to private schools or really well-resourced public schools, places where the kids had plenty of enrichment opportunities already,” Behr said. “We realized that there was a huge group of kids we were not serving, and they were probably the kids who would most benefit from having an author visit.”
Recognizing this need, Swanson and Behr created the Busload of Books tour to give this kind of experience to kids across the United States within Title I eligible schools. Additionally, the couple teamed up with WC in order to research the impact of their tour on the students.
The research side of the project was run by WC professors, including Dr. Bunten. By collecting data from the schools they visited, the tour will be able to live on even though the Busload of Books is back home in Chestertown.
“We started discussions and talking with them about all the potential questions that we have and could ask about kids and their literacy attitudes, and practices involving teachers and administrators, as well,” Dr. Bunten said.
Data for this research was collected via surveys given to the students before, directly after, and a month after Swanson and Behr’s presentation in order to gauge their views on reading, writing, and drawing.
“Our findings showed improvements after the visit that were statistically significant…students wanted to read, they wanted to write, and they wanted to draw more in school,” Dr. Garcia said. “We also found that there was more enthusiasm for each of these categories.”
In addition to finding that the presentations garnered more enthusiasm for literacy, the impact on the communities stood out, as well.
“We set out thinking we were on a tour of literacy, but along the way it became clear that even though we were giving away books, presentations, and teddy bears, the most important thing we left behind in the communities we visited was a feeling. It was a feeling of respect, being seen and valued,” Swanson said.
Photo by Delaney Runge
Photo Caption: Swanson and Behr’s bus sat in Martha Washington Square for a few days prior to the event.