School system announces summer shutdowns for ASPIRE Book Bus

Contributor Photo • The ASPIRE Book Bus is rolling to stop across the county again this summer.

By Bryan Stevens

Although it is summer vacation for students in Unicoi County, the school system invites children back on the bus to participate in an exciting and educational program known as the ASPIRE Book Bus.

According to Jenifer Lingerfelt, elementary curriculum and instruction manager for Unicoi County Schools, research shows that students who don’t read during the summer can lose two to three months of reading proficiency.

“It’s often called the ‘summer slide,'” Lingerfelt explained. “Reading four to six books has the potential to stop or even reverse the summer trend.”

In the fall of 2017, schools in Unicoi County partnered with the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation to launch a book bus program offering families the opportunity to establish literacy routines during the summer months, while there are historically fewer existing school programs running.

“By bringing mobile libraries directly to neighborhoods in Tennessee, we want to meet children where they are, where they play and where they live, with the resources they need to continue reading and learning outside of the classroom. classroom,” said GELF President James Pond. .

A typical stop lasts 45 minutes, although some stops may be slightly longer or shorter.

Upon arrival, children will have the opportunity to listen to a story while eating a meal provided by Unicoi Schools.

They can also consult a book, as they would at their school or at the public library.

“We filled the bus with high-quality books that our kids love,” Lingerfelt said. “We consulted our school librarians for popular series, authors and books that interest students.

The ASPIRE bus is equipped with electricity and technology.

“Students can listen to online stories read by storytellers from around the world or choose to write at a modernized table with the original bus seats and a table handcrafted by our very own Herman Tipton,” Lingerfelt said. .

Lingerfelt added that the bus offers comfortable seats.

“Children can come together alongside a parent, grandparent, friend, sibling or teacher to share a book together,” she noted.

“Before leaving, each child can choose a ‘forever book’ to take home and keep,” Lingerfelt said. “These books were donated through past book drives and various people and community organizations.”

ASPIRE has been loved in the community since 2018, according to Lingerfelt.

“We have distributed thousands of books and meals,” she added.

“During the summer of 2020 due to COVID, we posted daily stories read by Unicoi County teachers on our ASPIRE Book Bus Facebook page,” Lingerfelt said. “We are so happy to be able to move again!

Lingerfelt said the school system is grateful to community partners who allow the bus to stop along its routes.

“We are excited to add Little League and the Limestone Cove Community Center this summer,” she said. “We live in such a beautiful area. The view of the mountains from Limestone Cove is breathtaking. It’s also such a joy to visit the Erwin Housing Authority and Whispering Meadows every summer.”

Lingerfelt said students are often thrilled to see a former teacher, but the program is also a treat for little ones who like to see the big blue bus pull up.

Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church allows the bus to park next to its outdoor pavilion.

“It’s a nice, cool stopover on a hot summer day,” she said.

Contributor Photo • The purpose of the bus is to keep students engaged in reading during the summer holidays.

Scott’s Market in Unicoi is a longtime partner, according to Lingerfelt.

Lingerfelt noted that attendees at the Scott’s Market stop were occasionally treated to delicious ice cream.

“Some families plan to stop at the market and then visit the book bus,” she said. “It’s a very fun place to visit.”

The YMCA is one of the biggest stops.

“We often have retired teachers join us there,” Lingerfelt said. “It’s so nice to see the continued commitment of former educators and we’re lucky to have so many.”

Lingerfelt said Denise Rose, who also serves as the Imagination Library Coordinator, is truly an essential part of the Book Bus program.

“She and Kathy Eunson, also a retired teacher, have for years helped sort through donated books that will become a ‘forever book’ for a visiting child,” Lingerfelt said. “Their support is so appreciated.”

The bus also stops at elementary schools.

“Principals and teachers have always been so wonderful to join us throughout the summer,” Lingerfelt said. “Sometimes a principal serves as a guest reader and the students always appreciate that very much.”

Lingerfelt said many community partners support ASPIRE.

“We often attend RISE Erwin events,” she noted. “It allowed us a broader community engagement. Clinchfield Federal Credit, Food Lion, the Chamber of Commerce, Unicoi County Public Library, local Imagination Library and the Monday Club have all donated time, books or partnered with planned events or activities.

Additionally, she said ASPIRE would typically show up several nights at Erwin Farmers Markets.

“We also have several pop-up events that happen every summer,” Lingerfelt said. “This year we are participating in the Unicoi County Public Library End of Summer Day. From time to time we have received generous donations from people in the community who have helped to buy the beautiful books you see on the bus.

Essentially, Lingerfelt said ASPIRE remains truly a community investment shared by Unicoi schools.

The program focuses on early literacy, but through an intergenerational approach, according to Lingerfelt.

“We want books in the hands of children, from toddlers through college,” she said. “Knowing that research shows the importance of having books in the hands of children makes it an important goal. But we love that our community turns around our kids to support them through experiences like the Book Bus.

Based on his own observation, Lingerfelt said adults seem to enjoy the bus as much as students.

“ASPIRE is intentionally designed to serve as a gathering for people of all ages,” she said. “There are adult-sized and very comfortable seating and learning areas for adults to gather with books alongside children.”

She shared that bus staff recently noticed a dad reading a motorcycle magazine as his little ones explored the bus.

“It’s a really cool thing about the whole experience,” she said.

Families can follow the ASPIRE BOOK BUS schedule and summer schedule on the Unicoi County Schools ASPIRE Book Bus Facebook page.

“Sharon Ritchie Slagle has helped turn the book bus into a great experience for young children and their families,” Lingerfelt said. “She helped decorate the interior and filled it with the positive messages you see when you enter the bus.”

Additionally, Slagle also helped nominate ASPIRE.

“This special name carries the message that children can aspire to be anything they choose to be,” Lingerfelt explained.

She noted that “aspire to inspire” is a slogan that she and her colleagues like to use.

“It reminds us of Sharon who was and remains an inspiration to all who knew her,” Lingerfelt said. “Each summer Ms. Sharon has given of her time and filled young hearts with so much positivity. This summer, as ASPIRE rolls around, we do so in honor of Sharon and her love for young children.

The bus does not run without the help of various Unicoi County school employees, however.

“Unicoi County is blessed with some of the best teachers and several of them signed up to work with the Book Bus this summer,” Lingerfelt said. “Keri Bogart and Candy Rice will be working on our Unicoi route. This will make present and future Unicoi Pirates very happy!

“Kelly Pate and Debbie Hatcher are working on the Erwin Road in June,” Lingerfelt continued. “They are a dynamic and beloved duo at Rock Creek Elementary.”

The crews move a little in July.

“Lauren Trivette and Jennifer McCloud are energetic and fun Love Chapel teachers who work at Erwin in July,” Lingerfelt said.

“April Hawkins, Tanya Laughren and Jennifer Hodges will be working on our pop-up events as well as at Famers Market,” she added. “They serve in our PreK program. Kids and families will love interacting with them.

Lingerfelt also noted that Myriah Woodby drives the bus this summer and Tracy Foster cooks the meals.

“We adore these two ladies,” Lingerfelt said. “This whole team is just a really kid-centric group of people who will bring a lot of warmth and fun to every stop.”

Lingerfelt also noted that there is a huge team behind the scenes consisting of maintenance, transport, catering and technology teams.

“I’m very grateful for their support every summer,” she said.

On Tuesdays in June and July, the ASPIRE Book Bus Summer Tour will stop at Unicoi Elementary at 9 a.m., Scott’s Market at 10 a.m., Limestone Cove Community Center at 11 a.m., Whispering Meadows Apartments at noon, and the Unicoi County Family YMCA at 1 p.m.

On Thursdays in June and July, the ASPIRE Book Bus Summer Tour will stop at Temple Hill Elementary at 9 a.m., Erwin Housing Authority at 10 a.m., Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church at 11 a.m., Little League Field from Unicoi County at noon and at Rock Creek Elementary. at 1 pm

For more information, follow Unicoi County Schools ASPIRE Book Bus on Facebook or visit

Jeremy S. McLain