BY CURTIS CARDEN, Elizabethton Star
Children across the city will “get carried away with books” in style for the coming years.
Elizabethton City Schools’ Betsy Book Bus program is in the process of wrapping up its inaugural year of visiting neighborhoods and summer programs to area youth.
With only a couple of days remaining for the program, sponsors, state officials and school staff were able to tour the new bus during its schedule of runs Wednesday afternoon.
This week marked the first time the new bus has been on the road hitting up various stops, and Betsy Book Bus Director Carla Whiles was quick to point out the first installment of stops has been a success.
“This is our last week of routes but our first week with the new bus,” Whiles said. “With the new bus, we’ve been able to place even more books on the shelves. It looks like we’ve pushed out more than 2,000 books during this time. We’ve had more than 450 unique visitors, meaning they’ve come to the bus at least once. Out of that amount, many have stopped by multiple times.”
Prior to this week, the program used a regular bus to serve the area. TCAT – Elizabethton students were able to perform work on a decommissioned bus to now have a vividly-colored bus make it way through the streets, while being able to accommodate more books and students.
The program is held in conjunction with the statewide Read to be Ready goal, which is to have over 70 percent of third grade reading on level by 2025.
Along with school staff, local sponsors and state officials were on hand to view the new bus.
Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation representative Abby Graves stated it was a joy to see children take a vested interest in the program. Along with Elizabethton, Carter County and Unicoi County school systems were able to unveil a bus this year and Foundation members were able to tour each bus Wednesday.
“It has been exciting to see the way this community has embraced and supported this project,” Graves said about ECS. “They’ve really turned this Betsy Book Bus into something incredible. Getting to see the bus in action today has really reinforced what we thought. To see children cheering when the bus stops by and watching families engage over literacy has been great.”
Having the program make waves came in part with the GBBF partnering with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for grant funding to get the project up and running.
Lottie Ryans, with the First Tennessee Development District, added the initiative has been key for the Northeast Tennessee region, along with other communities across the state.
“Literacy is one of the things we’ve been focusing on throughout the region,” Ryans said. “We want to make sure children are kindergarten ready and are the right reading level when they reach third grade. Having something like this that addresses that focus has been a really important initiative to bring into the region. Elizabethton has done a fantastic job with this program.”
GBBF Vice President Dean Hoskins added the partnership with ARC has netted high results and the hope is to see the program grow to having at least six buses funded with new monies by the end of next summer. Along with applying for additional funding for a second year of bus runs for Carter, Elizabethton and Unicoi, Hoskins added the hope is to see buses in Johnson, Morgan and Campbell counties.
“What I’m most in awe of is the imagination and creativity and the ownership that each community has taken,” Hoskins said. “The entire community got behind it. Even though we provided initial funding, it wasn’t enough to get the project off the ground. We talk about how important reading is with children and giving access to children that are more at-risk for a summer slide. But it’s great to see the teachers interact with the students and watch the project in each county grow.”
The Betsy Book Bus has made its way through different neighborhoods and worked alongside the Boys & Girls Club and other local programs. Moving forward, Whiles added the goal is to have the program visit different city schools throughout the upcoming school year and also show up at different events throughout the area.
Sponsors and partners include Elizabethton City Schools, Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, Tennessee College of Applied Technology, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Appalachian Regional Commission, Northeast Community Credit Union, Niswonger Foundation, Citizens Bank, Niswonger Children’s Hospital, Carter County Bank, First Tennessee Development District, Kiwanis Club of Elizabethton, Appalachian Family Dentistry, and the Parent Teacher Advisory Counsels at T.A. Dugger Jr. High, East Side Elementary, and West Side Elementary.