By MARINA WATERS
It’s not unusual for the Washington County School System to cycle out a few buses each year. But it is unusual when one of those buses is transformed into a library — that is, until now.
The school system recently morphed a big yellow school bus into a rolling library complete with wooden book shelves filled with thousands of books waiting for eager hands to turn the pages. This new bus wasn’t just the brain child of Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary and the school system’s special project manager, Jarrod Adams; they leave the credit to Zephaniah Wells, the Eagle Scout who first brought the idea to the school system.
“We have been chewing on (the library bus idea) for five years,” Flanary said. “What really put it over the top was we had a meeting one day with a home-schooled student that’s trying to get his Eagle Scout badge. He came up with the idea and he didn’t know we had been talking about it. I thought, ‘This is a sign. We’ve got to get after this.’”
Wells said in addition to earning his badge, he wanted to work on a project that focused on bringing opportunities for reading to students.
“My mom told me about the bookmobile in her hometown and suggested that I could try and put one together for my Eagle Scout project,” Wells said. “I chose this project so that I could share my love of reading with the community by addressing problems like illiteracy, summer learning loss and a lack of transportation.”
Throughout the summer, students in the county school system’s summer program have seen the big blue bus roll up to the elementary schools to offer a chance to browse through the books donated by the Washington County library.
“The plan was to bring this out during the summer to communities where maybe they don’t have access to the public library,” Adams explained. “We’ve got the public library in Jonesborough, one in Johnson City and one in Gray. Other than that, we don’t have access to books for our kids. We take it out to West View and Fall Branch and those kids have an opportunity during the summer to read books and take them home that are more on their level.
“When you’ve got a second or third grade kid, to be able to get on a bus and find a book he’s interested in and take it home, I think that promotes the reading we’re looking for from our students.”
Learning through reading isn’t the only education the bus has provided; once the transportation department checked on the mechanics and removed the seats to make room for the book shelves, it was up to David Crockett High School’s auto body, art, and woodworking students to do much of the work.
“The teachers led (the project) in that they would help give ideas and suggestions, but the kids are the ones who really built it all, which is just really cool to see,” Adams said. “We had the auto body kids paint part of the hood and they painted the roof of it. The auto mechanic teacher and his group checked out some of the mechanical issues on it, the art teacher had all that work that her kids did to design it, the librarian at Crockett had some ideas for us on how to do the books — it was a full-court press and we got a lot of people involved to do it.”
For many Crockett students, it’s more than a library on wheels — it serves as a source of pride and offers the feeling of a job well done.
“I’d say half of the kids at Crockett had something to do with it, the design, the build,” Flanary said. “I remember walking in to check on it one day at Crockett and this student said he’d show it to me. He walked me through step by step what they had done. This is a 16-year-old in auto body, not an honor student, but he was so proud of the work they’d done. He was so tuned in to what they were doing. The students in took a lot of pride in it. I think it’s just pride and satisfaction in seeing a big project that is so unique get out there.”
To show off that work, Flanary said the book bus will be featured in the Jonesborough Days parade set for Thursday.
“I really wanted it in the parade to showcase what the students can do as much as the bus itself,” Flanary said. “(We want to show) what the school system is capable of doing in-house. We are proud of it.”
Now that summer school has wrapped, the school system is already thinking of ways to use the bus during the school year and incorporate curriculum standards in an exciting way.
“We’ve had talks about using it as a traveling library for social studies so that if it goes out to Gray for a week or two, they can get sections of the library that are focused on a specific content standards,” Adams said. “The kids and teachers can come out and use the library as another resource to help work with their kids on content. We’ve involved instructional coaches on that concept as well as the librarians. That’s in its infancy, but that’s what we’re going to do with it this school year.”
Adams said they are also considering using the bus, or potentially another cycled-out bus, as a traveling bus to showcase the Career Technical Education options the high schools offer.
“Some of the people at the high school are floating the idea of a CTE traveling bus and putting stations on there to show kids what it’d be like to work on a small engine or maybe build a small wooden object, whatever they would design,” Adams said. “They could travel around and these middle school kids would get an idea of the type of programs we offer at the high school level.”