West Columbia, SC - Melanie Thornton got an idea while walking with her son through their Quail Hollow neighborhood.
There were lots of children out in their yards, at home because of school closures to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
What better way to connect with them than to stop and read?
So Thornton, a kindergarten teacher assistant at Riverbank Elementary in Lexington Two, created a “rolling reading room” using a golf cart she borrowed from her father. She started driving through her neighborhood, “rolling by” homes and honking her horn for kids to meet her at a safe distance at their mailboxes to read books -- titles including Pete The Cat, Junie B Jones, I Love You Just The Way You Are, and many others.
A photograph of Thornton reading to one of her Riverbank students, shared on social media, prompted an overwhelming response from the community. Requests came in not only for interviews -- including a Facebook Live appearance on NPR with Kwame Alexander’s UPBEAT show -- but also from families in neighborhoods near her own for reading time.
“When this first started I just rode around, but it grew so fast that now I have a schedule,” said Thornton, who manages her rolling reading time around online eLearning assignments with her Riverbank kindergarteners. “Parents text or private message me and I give them a time window. There have been days I roll and read for four hours!”
Riverbank Principal David Sims called Thornton “a blessing for our children and learning community.”
“She is passionate, extremely hard-working, and innovative,” Sims said. “Finding her reading from a golf cart to children in her neighborhood wasn’t surprising. It made me smile. She loves teaching and learning and has a desire to love and share with others.”
Thornton said one of her biggest rewards is seeing the kids’ smiles when she rolls up in her cart. “They are so excited to see me, and we are able to dive in and ‘go somewhere’ together on the pages of the books.“
It has brought smiles to so many kids, not only from Lexington Two but other districts, private schools, and those who have always been homeschooled,” Thornton added. “School closures have affected us all, and for 10-15 minutes at each stop, they get to truly be a student again in our outdoor classroom.”