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Read all about it: Johnson Elementary has Books on the Bus and book club

Rick Wagner • Feb 7, 2016 at 6:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Johnson Elementary School is all about reading.

The school library, two of its bus drivers and some students are piloting Books on the Bus, a national initiative designed to strengthen reading emphasis and skills that, according to school officials, improves student’s academic performance.

The school also has launched a book club of sorts among students, faculty and staff, with parents invited to join in, too.

Vicky Treadway, associate principal at Johnson, presented the Kingsport Board of Education at its Feb. 4 meeting information about Books on the Bus and another school library outreach program.

Books on the Bus, a pilot program operated in partnership with Kingsport City Schools Transportation and facilitated by bus drivers Billy and Donna Nelson, brings what she called the joy of reading to students during their commute to and from school. Books from a special box are made available to students for reading during their bus ride home, resulting in increased literacy access, focus, and improved behavior during the afternoon commute.

“This program allows us to expand the walls of Johnson’s library,” school librarian Rebecca Thomasson said in a video. Books were donated by faculty, students, the community and businesses, including Books A MIllion, while some were bought by interested parties at yard sales and flea markets and given to the program. The program costs Johnson and the school system nothing.

 “It is a work of love,” the librarian said.

Students help operate the program and work with the Nelsons to determine the types of title offered, taking suggestions from students. “They (drivers) transport school projects, students’ dreams and our future,” Thomasson said.

“It’s really good to put a book in a child’s hand,” Donna Nelson said in a video presented at the meeting, while Billy Nelson said, “I’ve found it helps out with behavioral problems on the bus.” He said it seems some students prefer books to reading from phones or tablets using Wi-Fi on the bus. The video also included testimonials from students Kristen and Savannah. 

“It lets the ride go by faster. You go home quicker and it makes you learn a lot faster,” Savannah said, adding that her two favorite titles are “Wild Horses” and “Dragon World.”

One School, One Book is a movement designed to get the entire school community, including parents, involved in the joy of reading. The first book chosen for Johnson’s program is “The World According to Humphrey,” by Betty G. Birney. Through the program, starting this month, each family will receive a copy of the selected book. The Birney book is about a class hamster and how he learns about humans and the world from his cage.

Following a shared schedule, families read at home together. In the classroom, daily events and projects reinforce the reading selections and encourage the entire school community to get excited about the book.

First grade teacher Mary Hatzikazakis in a video said the school also has an after-school book club serving about 150 families and extended library hours before and after school.