REXBURG – Upper Valley youth will get a chance to feed both their minds and bodies thanks to the third annual Summer Feeding Program and Literacy Bus sponsored by the Madison School District.

The lunch event is open to children from infants to 18 years old. For parents wanting to eat with their children, the cost per meal is $3.85.

Madison Food services will provide the free lunches every day starting at 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Porter Park, Smith Park and from 11:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Kennedy Elementary Schools starting Monday, June 3, and continuing through Friday, June 28.

At about the same time the school district will offer free books to area youth via its Literacy Bus. The bus will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and Wednesday at Porter Park. It will also be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday at Smith Park through the month of June.

“The bus has been modified to put in benches. All the benches open up. They’ve got thousands of books in all different reading levels,” said Madison District Communications Coordinator.Jessica Goudy.

Goudy noted that there will be chapter books available that haven’t been provided in the past.

“We have a good variety of books with everything down to the beginner reader,” she said. “You can come in and sit on one of the benches and read a couple of books before you decide which one to take with you.”

The books are free, and youth may take one for keeps each time they visit the bus. The books are provided by state literacy funds and also via a $1,000 donation via the Madison Education Foundation.

“We’re very grateful to them and to their support for that,” Goudy said.

The hope is that by providing the Literacy Bus and free books, every child in the region can have a book to read at home. While it’s hard to imagine that any family would not have books at home, it does happen and even here in Madison County, Goudy said.

“I think there’s a mirage of reasons. We want to change that. We want books in the hand of every kiddo who lives in this community. We want to create that accessibility for all ages,” she said.

The Literacy Bus will be staffed by certified teachers who youth may have had in the past or may expect to have during the upcoming school year.

“To make it fun, we’ve got teachers. Teachers will be in there talking to the kids about reading. They’ll be there getting them excited about continued reading during the summer,” she said.

Director of Assessment, Data, Accountability, CTE/CTS Administrator Darnae Lamb. She noted the bus has plenty of room to store books. 

"Our goal this year and every summer is to make sure kids have access to reading material all summer long.  The purpose is that kids will be engaged in reading, and, hopefully, increase their reading abilities through the summer," she said. 

The hope is to keep youth at their reading levels and to prevent what's called "the summer slide, Lamb said. 

"(It) is a real issue. The summer slide is when kids leave in the spring, and they leave in the spring and they come in the fall, they've lost some ground in reading," she said. "Kids like to have lots of choices. Hopefully, we have provided a large enough variety here that they will be able to get their hands on some really great books, have an opportunity to just fill their hands with books, take them home and read as often as they can.”

Lamb reported that the school district  purchased just over 3,000 books, and that the bus is “chock-full” of things to read. The books include picture books as well as fiction novels and non-fiction texts.

“We have lots of choices. There’s a variety of genres to choose from, and they’re all free,” she said. “We’re hoping your kids will have a great imagination and enjoy a summer filled with reading really great literature and hopefully help them become ready for the next grade level.”

Lamb noted that youth could enjoy both a free lunch and a free book during the combined events.

“Now you don’t have to cook, and your kids will have a great activity to occupy their minds for a few hours a day,” she said.

Free bookmarks will also be available on the bus. Should families want additional bookmarks, they can pick up some at the Madison School District office.

Reading proves a high priority in Madison County, Goudy said.

“We see the benefits of kids that have been read to as they start school and continue reading as a family. Literacy is something that it’s not a theme for the year. It’s an ongoing theme for the district,” she said

Goudy noted that School Superintendent Dr. Geoffrey Thomas is an avid reader.

“He encourages us as employees to continue to read to expand our professional development by getting our hands on an actual book,” she said.

“There’s something about turning the page of a book.”

Thomas agreed.

“Reading opens up worlds of possibility and opportunity for children and adults alike. My hope is that as a school district, we can help instill a life long love of reading. There is no enjoyment quite like reading a good book,” he said.

The school district also runs the Start Now program through their Madison Cares program that partners with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in providing books to children from ages one to five. Madison Cares pays for half of the program, while Parton pays the other half.

“It’s really about reading to kids at a young age and forming a connection. Anyone within Madison County can sign up. They get the book in the mail once a month until they turn five,” she said.

In the meantime, Goudy reminded families that Madison Cares has the free books available and teachers to assist families.

“They are ready to help you get your reading game on, to keep it strong and to keep you smart over the summer,” she said. “Be sure to come and check it out.”

Goudy plans to make continual updates about the Literacy Bus on Facebook and the school district’s website.

“Please come and participate in these wonderful programs that people like Darnea put together for your kiddos. Please spread the news about this program,” Goudy said.

Children do not need to be enrolled within the Madison School District to enjoy the lunch or to take advantage of the Literacy Bus.

For more information, visit https://www.msd321.com/.