AVONDALE — A special education teacher found a novel way to get kids reading during the pandemic: He brings the library to their home.
Dave Roche, a special education teacher at Carl Von Linné School, saw how the pandemic was restricting students’ access to quality books — so he built a bike with a large bookshelf attached in late April. Roche rides it to students’ homes in Logan Square and Avondale and they pick out books to read, like a mobile library.
When Roche started, he opened his mobile library to any family at his school. Most of the families that reached out had younger kids.
But once Principal Renee Mackin wrote about his efforts in her newsletter to the community, parents of students in every grade reached out to get books.
In all, Roche has now checked out about 50 books to students, including some to parents.
Once the parents request a visit from Roche, he takes his mobile library to their homes so the families can choose a book to check out. He’s even developed his own system of routes to hit as many homes as possible, and he hopes more families will sign up.
“If I’ve got four houses to visit, or like 10 houses … that are near each other, it doesn’t add that much more time or effort for me. So, I would love to get more now that I’ve got kind of the basics of it figured out,” he said.
After two weeks or so, Roche goes back to the families so the kids can return their books and pick new ones.
Roche started the effort because CPS schools were closed, meaning kids couldn’t access their school libraries, and some families were wary about public libraries.
Earlier this week, CPS returned to in-person learning, meaning kids can again get books at their schools.
But with Delta creating a surge of coronavirus cases across the country — including in Chicago — Roche said he wants to keep offering his mobile library to families in case school plans change again.
“If those same issues kind of come back, I would like more parents to be able to have me come by and bring books to their kids,” Roche said. “If they want me to come out, I’ll keep taking the bookmobile out.
“I imagine the need won’t be so high [now that CPS is back]. But if things go bad and we have to switch back to remote learning, I’m ready.”
Roche couldn’t have made his project a reality without a grant from the National Writing Project, funded by the Panda Cares Foundation.
“It was really generous of them to offer me a grant just to do something literacy-based, and they left it really open ended, and so I decided that I should bring books to kids,” Roche said.
Local authors like Celia C. Perez and Dave Scheidt have personally reached out to Roche to offer free books to his bookmobile. He is currently not accepting book donations because he’s received so many.
“People have been incredibly supportive [and have] been very nice. At this point, I can only carry 100 pounds, I’m kind of at that limit, with both the trailer and my legs,” Roche said.
Roche hopes to inspire other people to figure out their own ways of getting students in their neighborhoods more access to books.
“During the pandemic, I feel a lot of people, especially the kind of people more in charge, were [pushing] to get back to normal,” Roche said. “And I kind of thought that was setting the bar too low. …This is not normal times that we live in. … We have unique problems. We need unique solutions.”
Roche is offering to teach others how to build their own bookmobiles so they can hand out books to kids in their communities.
If your interested in building a bookmobile, you can email Roche at email@example.com.
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