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Reading Research Inspires Summer Book Bus

by Erin Watson
 | Apr 16, 2015

When two of my colleagues, Mary Lou Rube and Susanna Smith, returned from the IRA 2012 Conference in Chicago, Abingdon Elementary School principal Joanne Uyeda and I eagerly joined them in the reading room for a debrief session.

First on the agenda: The research of Richard Allington and his colleagues (Allington et al., 2010) around summer slide and the achievement gap, a gap familiar to our colleagues whose students clearly resembled the children Allington described

June reading scores consistently revealed that our teachers’ careful planning and children’s diligent efforts had paid off, but three months later, a different story emerged. The children in our charge were living proof of the research: Summer slide was pervasive in Arlington’s Title I schools. 

Our September reading scores were a vivid reminder that our mantra, “Keep reading over the summer!” had proved a poor elixir. Something more potent was required if our children were to maintain their previous year’s reading growth.

Enter Allington and his story about one district’s staff delivering books to a low-income neighborhood via a school bus during the summer. Joanne exclaimed, “Well, if they can do it, so can we!”

“You get the bus, and I’ll get the books!” I responded, without considering how I could possibly keep this promise.

Thirty minutes later Joanne confirmed that our superintendent, Patrick Murphy, had approved our request for a bus, and Sheryl Leeds, Title I supervisor, had agreed to contribute $500 to what would soon become “The Abingdon Read & Roll Summer Book Bus.” We had responded to Allington’s call to arms, and our enthusiasm and team spirit buoyed us through the next six weeks of frenetic planning.

The results? Twenty-five percent of our children visited the Abingdon Read & Roll Summer Book Bus that summer and borrowed 647 books! The next summer, student participation increased by 40%. Finally, we had found an antidote to summer slide and, along the way, built a team forever inspired by Allington’s speech at the IRA Conference.

Below, you will find the six-point plan that enabled us to finally give our children a powerful remedy to the tenacious summer slide that had plagued us for years:

Step 1: Define the vision (i.e., Diminish summer slide by making high-quality reading materials accessible to our children via a summer book bus), explicitly share the vision with staff, and recruit a team of passionate volunteers.

Step 2: List all major tasks necessary to fulfill the vision, have volunteers sign up for specific tasks, and keep the team informed each step of the way. Major tasks include the following:

  • Writing letters to perspective benefactors requesting book donations. Incentivize by promising to advertise their logos/company names on the banners located on each side of the bus.
  • Entering each child’s data into an electronic database so teacher volunteers can help guide children when checking out titles.
  • Scanning book titles into an electronic database so children can check out books just like they do at the school library. This helps with book returns. Volunteers also stamp and level books.
  • Locating a district MIFI to use with scanner for checking books in and out
  • Identifying five calendar days for bus deployment and four or five most densely populated stops.
  • Advertising via a Parent Information Night, class newsletters, neighborhood paper, and robocalls.
  • Prioritizing students’ high-interest books and arranging for student choice, which are key to students’ decisions to read (Cahill, Horvath, McGill-Franzen & Allington, 2013).

Step 3: Ignore the naysayers. They will derail your plans before you get started and deplete the team’s energy if you allow them.

Step 4: Analyze data to determine success of the initiative.

Step 5: Reflect on data and execution of plan and revise accordingly.

Step 6: Repeat.

Note: Special thanks to Arlington Superintendent, Dr. Patrick Murphy, Title I Supervisor Sheryl Leeds, Abingdon principal Joanne Uyeda, Abingdon’s PTA, reading specialists, Mary Lou Rube and Susanna Smith, librarian Meghan Fatouros, second-grade teacher Anne Marie Weaver, our generous book benefactors, and our tireless volunteers. Their enthusiasm, dedication, and focus led to the successful launch of Abingdon’s Read & Roll Book Bus and the literacy gains of our students.

Erin Watson is a professional development specialist with the Title I program at Arlington Public Schools in Virginia. 

The ILA 
Literacy Research Panel uses this blog to connect educators around the world with research relevant to policy and practice. Reader response is welcomed via e-mail.



Allington, R.L., McGill-Franzen, A.M., Camilli, G., Williams, L., Graff, J., Zeig, J.,…Nowak, R. (2010). Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students. Reading Psychology, 31(5), 411–427.

Cahill, C., Horvath, K., McGill-Franzen, A., & Allington, R.L. (2013). No more summer-reading loss (Not This, But That series). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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