Fayette County school bus driver Randall Cottongim started the first day of the 2018-19 school year Wednesday with a surprise for his young passengers.
Pointing to a pouch behind his seat filled with books, he told the kids heading to Lexington’s Cardinal Valley Elementary that they could borrow a book to read each day to and from school.
“It’s a good idea,” Cottongim said of the district’s new program called, Books on Board, which prompted the purchase of 8,000 books to go in pouches on school buses carrying elementary students. “The kids with longer bus rides in the morning, it will help them better because they will be able to ... get more reading in.”
Second-grader Jason Ramirez turned the pages of a book about George Washington Carver.
““I like to read,” he said.
In 2015, Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk’s first year in the district, he rode a bus on the first day of school and brought a book along to read with students and told the story of how he learned to love reading.
An article on the district’s website said when Caulk was a child a bus driver put a crate of books on his school bus and Caulk read the book, “Peter’s Chair.”
“It makes the bus not just a ride to school but a learning environment,” Caulk said in the article. “Falling in love with great books doesn’t happen just in the classroom. The child’s first learning environment is stepping on that bus.”
Sunila Basheer, a paraeducator at Cardinal Valley Elementary, told the Herald-Leader she was glad to know that her daughter has access to books on her bus.
Basheer said she takes her daughter to the library and they have books at home.
“But some of these kids don’t, “ she said.
“We have purchased high quality, diverse collections of books,” said district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall. “The books will go back into the pouches as the students leave the buses.”
The books are geared toward elementary students, Deffendall said. Kate McAnelly, the district’s chief academic officer, said in the district website article that the district might also put magazines and books on the buses for middle and high school students.
Community members were invited to ride and read with students on the first day of school to “encourage them to love reading,” Deffendall said.
Despite the significant amount of work required to get nearly 42,000 students back in classes Wednesday, no substantial problems occurred. There was “nothing out of the ordinary for a first day” Deffendall said. Lexington police spokeswoman Brenna Angel said she was not aware of any reports made to police by 3 p.m.
Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers, who formerly oversaw the school district’s law enforcement department, rode Cottongim’s bus Wednesday. Students asked him to tell a story instead of reading a book and Weathers complied with an animated tale of how he and his partner named Bob went on a search.
Putting books on buses, said Weathers, “gives kids something to do.”
“It helps them learn,” he said.
Weathers said that this school year, city officers are going to be more visible at Fayette public schools.
“In reality, it’s part of their beat,” he said. “We’re making an effort to … get out and know the Fayette County Schools law enforcement officers.”
Officers from the two agencies are exchanging cellphone numbers and will be on the same police radio channel, he said.
Weathers said strengthening the relationship is not necessarily a reaction to school shootings in Florida and Western Kentucky and subsequent copycat threats and gun incidents in Lexington public schools last school year.
“It’s just to let people know that we’re here and we are going to be here,” he said.