What has six wheels, shelves full of books and fresh produce, and a community full of support? It’s no riddle, just the Beverly Bookmobile – a colorfully decorated library on wheels that provides elementary students in Randolph County with access to literacy, nutrition and safety education all summer long.
Over the last few years, the bookmobile has partnered with a number of local businesses and outreach organizations, including West Virginia University Extension Service, to create a well-rounded summer program that offers youths resources that they typically would only get during the school year.
“The Beverly Bookmobile is a great way for our school and surrounding community to show our families how much we value literacy and healthy choices,” said Lucy Godwin, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Beverly Elementary. “Partnering with WVU Extension Service and other local organizations helps our families realize the importance of these things even when school is not in session.”
What started as a small caravan of vehicles distributing books to students around the Beverly area has expanded into a new, fully retrofitted school bus that also delivers fresh fruits and vegetables, bags of healthy snacks, various health and safety items, and familiar interactions with their teachers and support staff from Beverly Elementary School.
Shortly after the mobile library first hit the road, Tracey Valach, former WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program youth health educator in Randolph County, saw an opportunity to collaborate with the bookmobile to get more fresh produce in front of their students during the summer months.
“About three years ago, we started a school garden at Beverly Elementary. When the produce started to come on, I realized there was nowhere for that produce to go,” Valach said. “The bookmobile was a perfect fit to get the produce that the children had helped grow into their homes over the summer when they weren’t here to enjoy it.”
That collaboration was so successful that Valach and Hannah Fincham, WVU Extension Service agent in Randolph County, helped facilitate a relationship with local donors and a nearby grower, the Charm Farm, to add a full-scale kids market to the Bookmobile.
On its weekly runs, the bookmobile served approximately 90 students, which has doubled over the project’s life span. While there were several repeat visitors, nearly 600 unique youths benefited from the bookmobile’s services this summer. Paul Zickefoose, Beverly Elementary’s principal, knows those numbers wouldn’t be possible without the help of others.
“This project is an affirmation of what a community can do when it comes together,” Zickefoose said. “The bookmobile truly has the support of the entire community.”
The bookmobile kids market is just one piece of the multi-faceted health and nutrition programming that Valach helps deliver to students at Beverly Elementary. Earlier this year, Valach partnered with Beverly Elementary and five other elementary schools to install edible landscaping features around the schools’ playgrounds to provide additional fresh fruits. Working together with frontline employees like Godwin and Zickefoose, Valach’s goal is to provide students with the foundation needed to become healthy adults.
“We want to go deeper with our program and really give these kids, not just direct education but year-round access to smarter food options,” Valach added. “This school is a wonderful example of the complete package where we can make the most impact in these kids’ lives over time.”
The WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program is a partner of the Beverly Bookmobile project. This work is supported in part by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–SNAP.