A $20,000 grant from state organizations associated with Gov. Nathan Deal and his wife will allow the Bulloch County Schools, also assisted by local donors, to convert a school bus into a book mobile for children.
Dr. Yvette Ledford, one of the school system's four academic support directors and director of its prekindergarten program, wrote the successful grant proposal for the "Get on the Bus" initiative. Deal on Jan. 22 announced the 48 recipients of this year's Early Language and Literacy Mini-Grant from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement and the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy. Bulloch County's award was the maximum amount.
"We are very excited about this grant," Ledford said in the Bulloch County Schools news release. "Our first steps will be to complete the exterior and interior design of the bus, stock it with a variety of quality books, and plan a schedule of upcoming events."
The release provided by BCS Public Relations Specialist Hayley Greene describes early literacy as "the number one problem the district faces as it works to ensure each child reads on grade level by third grade."
Early literacy challenges
Reading readiness varies widely among the 1,300 children who enter the Bulloch County Schools' pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes each fall.
On behalf of the school district, Ledford surveyed more than 400 parents who have children under 8 years old. More than half did not have access to language resources, lacked access to the local library, and had fewer than 10 books in their home, she reported.
Data from the Georgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, or GKIDS, assessment show that only 75 percent of Bulloch County's children have the expected academic skills, and there are portions of school zones where it dips to 50 percent, according to the news release.
Photos Ledford obtained of buses operated as book mobiles in other districts show colorful interiors with books from floor to ceiling. The goal of the project is not just to equip and stock the bus, but to sustain it as it travels throughout Bulloch County, with emphasis on neighborhoods and communities that lack access to reading and language resources.
"The bus will particularly provide books, help build home libraries, and encourage reading for families who have infants or early elementary-age children," Ledford said. "We will also have educational activities for families. We want to create a positive early literacy experience one book at a time."
Ledford has also used "Get on the Bus" as a metaphor for bringing supporters on board for the project. She secured a retired school bus from the Board of Education in 2017 and has retained several local sponsors and community partners. Books-a-Million has donated books to help stock the bus, and Walmart Distribution Center has donated $2,500.
Whitfield Signs has also stepped up to help decorate the bus. Other community partners include the Statesboro Regional Library, Altrusa International Club of Statesboro, Ogeechee Technical College, Digital Office Equipment, Boy Scouts of America Pack 935, Madison Meadows, Little Lotts Creek, Merritt & Merritt Law Firm, Elm Street Church of God, African American Business Owners Community Foundation and Concerned Clergy of Statesboro.
"For this project to have longevity, we will continue to need volunteers and organizations committed to annual giving," Ledford said. "Of course we literally want children to get on the bus and find interesting books to read or have read aloud to them, but we also want our community to get on the bus and support initiatives to improve literacy in Bulloch County."
The Early Language and Literacy Mini-Grant program is new, announced by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement in August as a joint project with the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy. Grants range from $5,000 to $20,000.
Named for first lady Sandra Deal, a literacy and education advocate and former teacher, the center is based at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. It opened in June after being allocated state funding totaling $5.1 million through the fiscal year 2017 and 2018 budgets.
"These mini-grants provide communities with additional resources to put more students on track," Gov. Deal said in last week's state announcement. "The bright minds of Georgia's students are the state's most precious resource, and I commend the educators and community partners working to prepare them for future success."