- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

A colorful bus from Cleveland yesterday delivered a gift of literature for nearly 100 D.C. students.

The Busy Bookmobile visited Smothers Elementary School in Northeast to provide multicultural books to students participating in the Afterschool for All program.

“We bring in books from all over the world,” said Deborah McHamm, president and chief executive officer of A Cultural Exchange, a nonprofit literacy/arts organization that operates the bookmobile. “Kids can find books here from Brazil, Korea, Eastern Europe and Africa.”

The bookmobile offers titles such as “Babushka’s Doll” and “The Dancing Dragon,” as well as multimedia equipment. A hydraulic lift helps handicapped children into the bus.

“This visit could not have come at a better time,” said Angela N. Morton, the school’s principal. “It is the day before we celebrate Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.”

Fourth-grader Dione Adams was among the students who visited the bookmobile. The 9-year-old said she has almost finished her 30 books.

Ms. Morton explained that D.C. public schools require students to read 30 books each year and write reports on them.

“I am going to read my book for my next book report,” Dione said.

She and her friend Shaniah Davis, 9, selected the same book, “The Mystery of the Missing Dog” by Elizabeth Levy, so they could read it together.

Today, Smothers will welcome parents, grandparents and non-teaching staff members who have volunteered to read to the children.

The bookmobile stopped at Smothers on the way to a U.S. Department of Education conference, its first trip to the D.C. area.

Mrs. McHamm started A Cultural Exchange in 1991 with help from a group of black women in Cleveland.

“We looked at the statistics and found that the teachers are fantastic, the kids are fabulous, but there was still a disconnect somewhere,” she said. “So we started looking for that disconnect.”

What they found was a shortage of quality books with which children could identify and would read, Mrs. McHamm said.

“We think the problem is access,” she said. “These books are multicultural because we need these babies to see themselves in a positive light.”

Children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade were welcome to board the bus and purchase a new book for 50 cents to $1. The books, subsidized by private and public funds, were sold to children below retail price.

Each student was given $1 by the NeuroLanguage Corp., an international technology company that has partnered with D.C. public schools to help with after-school programs. The company also gave each child an electronic bookmark that will track how long the student reads.

Eighty percent of the students at Smothers attend the after-school academics, arts, sports and community programs. The Afterschool for All program is under the Extended Education Programs in D.C.

The Busy Bookmobile will return to the area soon, Mrs. McHamm promised.

“This is not just a bus for low-income kids,” she said. “It is a bus for all kids.”

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