What started as an idea inspired by an ice cream truck for Jan Helmuth turned into “Word on Wheels” at Ruckersville Elementary School.
Helmuth, who recently retired from RES after 20 years, envisioned an old fashioned ice cream truck visiting neighborhoods in the summer—but along with serving up ice cream for children, also handing out books.
“I just always had this image in my head of the ice cream truck with books,” Helmuth said. “I happened to mention that to Bryan Huber, our assistant superintendent, and he said, ‘We could do that.’ I said, ‘We could?’ So a bunch of people got together and got books donated.”
Words on Wheels, or WoW, is now in its second year at RES. Teachers volunteer their summertime to board a bus that visits neighborhoods where English is predominantly a second language.
“We’re going to those communities and trying to help build that home and school connection and build those relationships with the parents,” RES Principal Donna Payne said. “The parents enjoy it and we’re reaching students who haven’t even started school yet. We’re making those connections and reading with them so they’re ready to come to school.”
This summer, the WoW bus visited both the Daniels Park and Cedar Grove neighborhoods in June and July. Helmuth estimates that they see 40-50 children on each trip, whom all get to keep at least one book and receive a free popsicle. Helmuth also gives each family a reading-related game to take home.
“I think it’s really important that they see reading as something enjoyable. Plus they get to see their teachers in a more relaxed, friendly atmosphere and it’s more one-on-one,” she said. “If they go all summer without reading they’re going to lose ground and we don’t want that to happen. Every time they get a game so they can practice their high frequency words and that will help with their reading.”
Both Payne and Helmuth plan for WoW to continue and grow each summer. Even though Helmuth officially retired at the end of last school year, she plans to remain part of the program.
“It’s just incredible and it also made me realize that if you do have a dream or an idea, you should talk about it with people and say, ‘Could this happen?’ It really gave me a lot of faith in what we can do and what can happen when people work together,” Helmuth said.