(L-R) Rebecca Flowers, Mary Craig and Kellie Keyser

This summer a trio of Charlottesville City Schools educators will pedal around town delivering free books to students.

“It’s like an ice cream truck, but with books,” said Kellie Keyser, a 3rd grade teacher at Clark Elementary School.

As part of the Books on Bikes program, Keyser, Walker Upper Elementary librarian Rebecca Flowers, and Clark librarian Mary Craig will crisscross town once or twice each week, hoping to encourage students to read even when they’re not in school.

Flowers said the idea developed from an event a few years ago during which she handed out free bookmarks.

“I like the idea of giving out free books all day, and I’ve always wanted to drive a book mobile,” Flowers said.

This summer marks the effort’s second year.

Last year the group pulled a red wagon full of titles—donated in large part by the Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library—into neighborhoods like Belmont, Friendship Court, 6th Street and Greenstone on 5th, near Prospect Avenue. In the future, they hope to get to Carlton Road, as well as the Westhaven and Riverside neighborhoods

“It was hugely successful, especially in the neighborhoods where the children knew us, which we realized was a really big component of our program,” Craig said. “They get really excited to see their teacher, especially in the summer.”

Rather than riding to summer camps or community centers, Craig said they deliver to neighborhoods so the books have a greater chance of staying in the home, and thus of creating an environment of literacy.

Reading Specialist Jenifer Davis said students who don’t read during the off-months can experience what teachers call the “summer slide.”

“Those that choose not to read over the summer oftentimes will come into school a level or two lower in reading than where they ended at the end of the academic year,” Davis said.

This situation creates additional work for both students and teachers.

“As soon as the school year begins, classroom teachers and reading specialists administer assessments to identify those students in need of additional reading support,” Davis added. “Based on diagnostic data, a consistent plan is put into place in terms of who will give additional instructional time to the student, what the focus will be, and the duration.”

To scale up their efforts, Keyser, Flowers and Craig have launched a Kickstarter campaign that runs through May 21. The funds will be used to purchase three new cargo bikes. Part of the funds raised, Keyser said, will also go to new books.

“Part of our goal is to get popular books, Spanish titles, and award-winning books,” Keyser said.

And it’s not only children who are benefitting. Keyser said that many parents who are learning English will read teen or young adult titles.

“It was cool to see that we were giving books to preschoolers through adults,” Keyser added.

Keyser said an outcome they hadn’t foreseen was the community connections.

“Just being out in the neighborhoods with the kids and meeting their families and interacting with them in a setting other than school,” Keyser said.

The group is also building connections through the Rotary Club—who awarded the Charlottesville staff members with a $500 gift—as well as other community groups, such as Computers4kids, which the educators hope will attract older students.

The cycling troop are also grateful for the JMRL partnership.

“It’s such a natural partnership that we have, and it’s just getting better between our school libraries and the public libraries,” Craig said.

“We want to give the books that we give away to students, but then if they’re also visiting the library in the interim and checking out more books, that’s just great all around,” Keyser said.

On June 7, Books on Bikes will host a bike parade from Friendship Court to the JMRL central branch, where students can register for the library’s summer reading series.

Interested parties can donate to the campaign at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1171124183/books-on-bikes.