By: Emma Zeller
The importance of literacy spans far beyond the ability to read or write, it defines the way we interact and communicate with the world around us. Access to these educational resources has a crucial impact on the future of students both inside and outside the classroom. Books, and access to them, is a fundamental need for the development of any child or teen.
Trojans Read the Way is a literacy initiative in the Jenks Public Schools district. Their goal is to help Jenks students of any age further their literacy skills through access to books. The initiative was started by our English teachers here at Jenks. Many of them had been doing research about literacy in connection to access to books. They researched the ‘summer slide,’ which means the learning loss that occurs over the summer, and they realized that in the summertime, many kids may not have access to books.
“Our initial idea was just to open up our highschool media center to make the library accessible to highschool students over the summer. Then, we thought ‘What if we were able to take books to the kiddos who may not have the means to get to the school library?’” said Karen Workun, an English teacher at JHS.
From this, the concept of Trojans Read the Way was born. Several incredible Jenks teachers became involved in the effort, including Liz Wright, Shianne Fouts, Randy Williams, Stephanie Brimacomb, Karen Workun, Tonya Morgan, and Associate Principal Eric Fox. Some of these educators got together and made a makeshift Bookmobile. They were able to utilize one of the Jenks district’s fifteen passenger vans.
“At the beginning it was like a library on wheels,” said Liz Wright.
“We would take book donations and put them in plastic milk crates to load into the van. We had a collapsible table and filled a cooler with ice and popsicles, then we hit the road. Every stop we would take out the folding table, take out the crates, and set up shop in the heat of the summer,” Workun said.
As the Bookmobile embarked on its maiden voyage, the teachers quickly realized the extent of their audience. They weren’t just serving high schoolers, they were serving nearly every age range at Jenks. From first-graders to seniors, students were coming down to check out books and get involved with Read the Way.
“From there,” said Workun, “our vision grew.”
They continued driving their route, gaining an audience, and supplying resources. Eventually, the Jenks Foundation discovered the initiative, and they offered help. Early 2020, the Jenks Foundation made the Bookmobile the focus of their fundraising efforts.
“We raised enough funds to get a bus, to retrofit it, and to make our Bookmobile dream come true,” said Workun. “Our amazing workers out at transportation for the district gutted the bus. It’s a dream, and this summer we got to take it out.”
These amazing teachers started this initiative, and the community responded. Members of the Jenks Fire Department came and read to students at the JHS media center. At nearly every stop the bookmobile made, Campus Police visited and built connections with the students.
“If a kid comes once a week, they end up with 16 books in their personal library,” Wright said, “I loved seeing the pure, unadulterated joy of these little kids and how happy they were just hugging a new book.”
The magic of the Bookmobile does not end with increased access to books. The aim of Trojans Read the Way is to be a full blown literacy initiative.
“We want to do summer reading programs, read alouds on the bus, provide resources to help kids further their reading comprehension, and almost make it a mobile reading camp,” Workun said.
One of their future goals is to add snacks and sack lunches to the bus. Behind these future aspirations lies an opportunity for any Jenks student or family to get involved. In order to continue bringing resources to Jenks students, resources must be available. This initiative exists today because of the help from the Jenks community. Their website shows many ways to donate books, including their Amazon Wishlist. On this list are high-interest books that are beneficial to Jenks students. They also accept monetary donations in order to keep the Bookmobile itself active. Lastly, they have ‘Book Donation Bins’ located around Jenks, and they only ask that the books be in good condition to preserve the integrity of the students receiving them.
“These routes are our happy place,” said Wright. “We don’t do it for money, we do it to see the kids and give them books. It’s why teachers really do what they do.”
There are many volunteer positions available in Trojans Read the Way. Both for help with the books, and for translators. To promote inclusivity and complete accessibility, there is a need for people that are able to translate Burmese and Spanish.
“It’s always good to have extra hands,” said Workun. “We need help loading and unloading books, sorting through donations, cleaning the bus, and more. Volunteer opportunities are always available!”
“Trojans Read the Way reinforced for me how special our community is and how we support each other in so many ways,” Workun said.
Over the past summer, Trojans Read the Way was able to give out 2300 books to students, and they plan to expand on that number in the coming years.
“We’ve come a long way from white van to Bookmobile,” Wright commented, “I can’t imagine this ever stopping. You see these initiatives all over the country being successful with students, and I just think Trojans Read the Way will get bigger and bigger.”
-You can visit the TRTW Website here.
-For information about volunteer opportunities, you can contact TRTW leaders here.
-To help with high-interest book donations, contribute through the wishlist here.
-If you’re interested in helping to keep the Bookmobile running and more through monetary donations, click here.