August 11, 2012
Program brings books to readers
McLEAN — Alex Doran likes to spend part of his summer vacation each year visiting his grandmother at her home in the Country Acres Mobile Home Park.
The 9-year-old is not different from his peers — he enjoys spending time during his break from school outside, frolicking in the summer sun, staying up late and, of course, playing video games.
“Super Nintendo,” he responded Thursday to a question about his favorite gaming console. “Super Mario All-Stars: The Lost Levels. I can get to the end of each board very easy.”
Doran’s grandmother, Carolee Hughes, has lived in the area for 13 years, and she looks forward to visits from three grandchildren each summer. Hughes is a home health aide with a penchant for reading all types of novels, and she tries to pass that enthusiasm on to her relatives.
On Thursday on the cusp of the mobile home park sat the Solar Express Bookmobile, staffed by two teachers from the Dryden Central School District. The 12-foot-long purple wagon was attached to a truck, and teachers Vanessa Fitts and Chuck Leo sat in the hot sun waiting for their clientele to arrive.
Solar Express’ history goes back to 2006, when the program began through funding from grants and personal donations. At that time, it was a van that would drive around Dryden and surrounding areas, set up shop and pass out books not just to children, but to anyone in the community who wanted to use the resource.
In 2011, the van was replaced with a large, purple wagon, which is packed wall-to-wall with books of different genres and reading levels. The goal of the program, which is coordinated by Dryden schools, is to keep people of all ages reading and expanding their knowledge.
“I’m very proud of the book mobile,” said Audrey Ryan, principal of Cassavant and Freeville elementary schools. “It’s a tremendous outreach for the community.”
The program began on July 10 and goes until Thursday at many local mobile home parks such as Hanshaw, Congers, Beaconview and Pleasant View, as well as Freeville and Dryden elementary schools. The 45-minute sessions run on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Aside from providing reading material, Solar Express also hands out nutritional snacks such as fruit as a way to promote a healthy lifestyle, Ryan said.
On Thursday, Leo, wiping the sweat from his face, explained that he is not Fitts’ usual running partner. Danny Fairchild, who just retired as a reading teacher, usually heads the charge. Leo said Fairchild had a wedding to attend, and because Leo enjoys shaping young minds through education, he went along with Fitts instead.
“The main thrust of this is to keep kids reading through the summer,” Leo said. “It’s known that kids lose some of what they learn over the summer.”
Leo said he thought it is nice that the Express caters to neighborhoods where “reading and continuing education might be overlooked in the summer.”
Fitts said she had a group of about 12 children visit the bookmobile earlier in the day in Dryden.
“We sat in a circle, doing arts and crafts,” she said. “We made masks, bookbags, beads and painted faces. The kids are usually waiting for us to arrive, and you know how they can become bored easily, so this is a good diversion.”
Fitts said some of the popular books taken from the mobile include, among others, editions of the Boxcar Children series.
It was a particularly slow session at Country Acres, as a total of five people showed up to take home books during the stop. Neither of the teachers had an explanation as to why, but suggested a lack of public awareness as a possible reason.
Doran, described by his grandmother as a history buff, says he loves to keep learning about whatever he can.
“He’s a sponge,” she said. “Ask him anything about (John F.) Kennedy or Abe Lincoln, and he’ll tell you. We have learned over the years not to mess with him because he’s usually correct.”
Doran could only smile.
“I like to learn,” he said.
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