HISD bus attendants celebrate literacy by reading to bus riders

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Perched on the edge of a firm green seat, bus attendant Loretta Gallaviz picked up a book and began to read aloud.

“One morning, Annie could not find Taffy anywhere,” she read, as the bus on which she was riding made its way down the street. “She looked and looked, but Taffy was gone. Annie was very lonely.”

The two students sitting in the adjacent seat beamed with excitement and curiosity.

“What happened to Taffy?” said Peck Elementary School fourth-grader Maria Fernanda Estrada,. “Is she hiding in the snow?”

Gallaviz is among more than 150 support personnel assigned to special needs routes throughout the district. Her story-time session is part of HISD’s Reading While Riding program, which aims to boost student literacy and vocabulary development.

Every April, HISD Transportation Services and the Houston Education Support Personnel Union celebrate the program by encouraging school bus attendants to read age-appropriate books to students on the way to and from school. This year, the program — now in its fourth year — was celebrated from April 16 to 20.

“The bus driver and the bus attendant are the first people students see from HISD. They set the tone for the day,” said Houston Education Support Personnel Union President Wretha Thomas. “Reading to them, I think, has a big impact on stimulating their minds so that when they get to school they are ready to learn.”

HISD Board of Education Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca joined Gallaviz and the students for their recent mobile story time. Any time the district can connect students to books — and get them engaged — is valuable, she said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for kids to take advantage of their time while on the bus — listening to a story, asking questions, and engaging,” Vilaseca said. “Anytime we have the opportunity for our students to read books and talk about them is something we need to take advantage of.”