The Reading Road Show – Gus Bus

10-Reading Road Show - Gus Bus

The Reading Road Show – Gus Bus

Office on Children & Youth, Institute for Innovation in Health & Human Services, James Madison University
601 University Boulevard
MSC 9008
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Phone: 540.568.6007
Fax: 540.568.6409

Focus: Humanities, Literature

Annual Number Participating: 350

Ages: Elementary School, Middle School

Annual Budget: $282,848

Partners: Blue Ridge Area Food Bank; Boys & Girls Club of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County; Chick-fil-A of Harrisonburg; Harrisonburg City Public Schools; Page County Public Schools

Funders: United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County; United Way of Page County; Virginia Department of Education

A different kind of school bus travels to 14 low-income Virginia neighborhoods in Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, and Page County. Rather than taking children to and from a building, the vehicle itself is their classroom. The Reading Road Show, also known as the Gus Bus, provides 5- to 11-year-olds and their families with extra educational support in early childhood literacy and school readiness. In addition, this holistic program also supplements household nutrition and offers informational resources to parents.

Up to 25 students and family members at a time are welcome on the Gus Bus for one hour, twice a week, year-round—and, especially, during after-school hours. “On-the-bus” programming includes a story hour, literacy activities, and craft projects, while “off-the-bus” enrichment activities, tutoring sessions, and homework assistance round out the program. Many of the educators who facilitate these “off-the-bus” events see the students at school and at home. Scheduling the Gus Bus on days opposite these meetings allows the children to develop trust and to count on their mentors to guide them through their early literacy journeys.

Given Harrisonburg’s large immigrant population, it’s often a challenge to teach English and reading in the public schools alone. Gus Bus programming also helps children increase their proficiency levels in these areas. When opportunities arise for students to read aloud, instructors are ready. They look forward to providing lessons that help children improve their vocabularies, increase their comfort level with reading, and enhance their ability to read with expression.

The concept for The Reading Road Show programming took shape in 2003, when James Madison University students, faculty, and staff learned that half of the community’s children were not prepared to enter kindergarten. To remedy the situation and improve literacy levels, they worked closely with local school divisions and community partners to bring high-quality children’s literature and activities to these youth and their families. Libraries also collaborated with the Gus Bus, to address community issues and increase access to books and literature programming.

All of these efforts continue to produce outstanding results. In this safe and supportive “classroom on wheels,” students feel empowered and are able to become their best selves. Teachers and parents report that children are successfully learning to read, raising their grades, and finding their voices.

Students are enjoying learning that’s done in a fun and engaging way. They also enjoy being able to choose books to take home and read. I believe that goes a long way in fostering a love of reading.

Michael Maurice Director, Office on Children & Youth, Institute for Innovation in Health & Human Services, James Madison University