As a teacher at Chesney Elementary, Kara Cowdrick saw a need that stretched beyond the school year. It took some help from her mom’s van, but they eventually met the need.
“Every year, I noticed that kids weren’t excited about going home for the summer,” Cowdrick said. “When we dug a little deeper, they were bored. We see this every year, and we’re not doing anything about it?”
That inspired Cowdrick to apply for a grant two years ago from Atlanta Families for Excellence in Education. She won the grant for $7,500, with $3,500 going toward a bookmobile, to better serve students throughout the summer with reading books. This summer, a local car dealership has come along and offered help, and beginning May 31 and occuring on Wednesdays throughout the summer, students will have access to a host of books to encourage reading.
“We can never, ever doubt what a bunch of helpful, committed citizens can do,” Chesney Principal Ricardo Quinn said. “When communities, teachers and business partners come together, we have better schools and better communities.”
Quinn spoke at an event Monday in front of the school where students and teachers waved pompoms and at the end of the event enjoyed popsicles. Students, teachers and Quinn danced to up-tempo music as the Rick Case Duluth vehicle pulled up.
Last summer, some 200 Chesney Elementary students checked out 2,171 books, while 47 Chesney teachers and community volunteers spent 134 hours delivering the books to local Duluth apartment complexes. While most weeks saw more than 80 students attend an event, Cowdrick said 34 students made it to every one.
That was when Cowdrick and her mother switched vehicles each Tuesday night so Cowdrick could use her mother’s van as the bookmobile.
When school reopened last year, Cowdrick said she noticed an excitement for reading, and fifth-grade students openly discussed the plots of their books.
At the event on Monday, Cowdrick rattled off names and series of books to cheers from the students: “The Wimpy Kid” series, “Junie B. Jones,” the “Stink” series and “Dr. Seuss.” This year, those books and others will be delivered to Landmark at Bella Vista and Paramount apartments, and Marty Plemmons, property manager at Rick Case Duluth, will be the driver of the Champion Bookmobile through July.
“It brings the community together,” Cowdrick said. “It brings the businesses together, it brings the schools together. Our hope is that we’ll continue to grow it.”
Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris spoke at the event and said students are a priority, especially with reading over the summer.
“And we’re going to give you no excuses,” she said. “We’re going to bring the books to you. So I’m going to make sure that is a goal that you set for yourself, to read this summer.”