WHEN WILL THIS BUS STOP HERE AGAIN? – Miranda Conca and son Roman, age 4, found that good things can come in small packages. They were among the 75 or so children and youth boarding the bus when it stopped at the Swinomish Gym and outdoor basketball courts, two of its four stops Monday. More than 3,000 donated books quietly packed that bus. – Photo by Robin Carneen
Jim Hernandez had no students aboard, but the La Conner school bus he drove Monday afternoon was filled to capacity nonetheless. With books, not students. At least for a while. His bus morphed into a local bookmobile for four fast-paced hours with stops at the Swinomish Gym and outdoor basketball courts, Shelter Bay Community Center and La Conner Regional Library. At each stop, students excitedly climbed into the bus to select from more than 3,000 donated books, a mission La Conner Superintendent of Schools Dr. Whitney Meissner said reflected the value placed upon education here. “There’s a broad-based and wide-spread interest in the community,” she said, “to support childhood literacy.” That resulted in massive donations of books plus significant cash contributions toward purchase of additional volumes for the summer book bus run. The books were the children’s to keep. “I think people recognize the benefits of reading,” said Meissner. “And we know that if students spend time reading in the summer they’ll be that much farther along when school starts in the fall.” Between 50 and 75 students greeted the book bus outside Swinomish Youth Center in the gym parking lot. One of them, 12-year-old Calli Dougliss, satisfied an ambitious summer reading list by finding four thick books from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series.
Swinomish Education Director Michael Vendiola said the turnout of students would have been greater still had it not been for so many youths being away at summer camps. “Summer,” he said, “can get pretty busy.” Students checking out the bookmobile were themselves kept busy. In addition to comparing and sharing books, they sprayed water at orange safety cones with District 13 fire hoses. District 13 firefighters also provided children with bags containing coloring books, stickers and certificates. Swinomish Police officers and a costumed Minion, one of the characters from the popular Despicable Me franchise, also took part in the fun, capped by students receiving popsicles. It was the La Conner School District’s Parent Advisory Committee that had earlier collected the donated books through a special “literacy drive,” La Conner Schools Special Programs Director Andy Wheeler said in an email last week. Hernandez and others loaded those books onto the bus Monday morning and arranged them by age groups prior to heading out on the four-stop route. At that point, it truly became a trip to drive up reading skills.