Got wheels? Literacy mavericks are taking it to the streets in North Syracuse, meeting up with youngsters in a van stacked with racks of books.
The woman behind the wheel is teacher Sue Straub, who bought the vehicle and named it Van Go – the art of summer reading. Several days a week, when she finishes teaching summer school, Straub drives to local parks in North Syracuse and Mattydale to let kids come aboard and pick out a book that interests them. The titles are stacked on handmade wooden racks, organized by age groups.
She’s met by eager students running through the grass, and by colleagues in her union, the North Syracuse Educators Association, who show up to help students find the right books as part of Team Van Go. When kids pull a book off the shelf that catches their eye, they can keep it or return it after reading it. The books have been donated by friends, community members and coworkers, with the NSEA office serving as a collection site.
“Anyone that knows me, knows that as a child I struggled to learn to read,” said Straub, who teaches fifth grade at Roxboro Middle School. “With the help of my mom, my grandma and many great teachers, I finally felt like a reader in fifth grade, and I haven’t really stopped since. I was lucky because my family had access to books, spent time at the library, and lived in a neighborhood that was visited by the Bookmobile,” she said on the Van Go Facebook page.
Not so with some of her students. Some of these boys and girls do not own a book, or are unable to get to the community library. “I work at a school with some pretty significant poverty issues,” she said.
But who doesn’t need a good book on a long, hot summer day?
Once she started thinking about it, the wheels were already in motion in Straub’s mind. Nothing sesquipedalian about it – she just went out and bought a beater van, and began jangling the keys in a clarion call to let people know she needed books.
“It’s just so uplifting and cheerful and nice,” said Phil Cleary, North Syracuse EA vice president.
Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. – Maya Angelou
To celebrate and support her new Van Go program – which has cycled nearly 2,000 books in its first month – NSEA hosted a party at union headquarters earlier this week. In a stream of rain beneath a gray sky, teachers huddled under a bright blue tent to grill food and hand out free books to children. The union donated the tent, food, facilities and extra books to support Book Van Go.
“It was pouring, and you couldn’t see happier people, “said Cleary, who grilled hot dogs with NSEA President John Kuryla.
“The project has the whole-hearted support of our officers and membership,” Cleary said. NSEA is an alum of NYSUT’s Local Action Project, which educates local union leaders on how to engage with community. “This is an extension of our community outreach.”
NSEA members have been donating books by cleaning out their homes, buying them at garage sales, or purchasing new books.
Straub’s mojo of going beyond the call of duty in the classroom has already been recognized – she was 2016 Teacher of the Year in the North Syracuse Central School District. This is a yet a new chapter in her outreach.
It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it. – Oscar Wilde