El Campo ISD will be granting students access to literacy materials this summer through the work of El Campo High School Senior Ryan Williamson, a Ford Leadership Scholar who is taking on a project to remodel a trailer into a traveling library.
Williamson’s mother Stacie is a librarian, therefore “I’ve always been surrounded by a lot of literacy resources,” he said. “Growing up I always thought other people had these opportunities, but as someone who has always volunteered during the summer at the public library, it really opened my eyes that not every kid has access to the public library or even books at home.”
The scholar program, a competitive program across the state of Texas in partnership with Texas Ford Dealers and the Texas FFA Association, chooses the top 10 students in the state.
“I heard about the Ford Leadership Scholar Program when I was a freshman,” Williamson said. “I saw all of the amazing projects that the current scholars were bringing to their communities, and I knew it was definitely something I wanted to do for the community of El Campo.”
Williamson, who was selected in May 2019, attended a week-long leadership training program in late June.
“We traveled to different businesses that have addressed a need in their community,” Williamson said. “The purpose of this week of training was to further develop our presentation, service and communication skills before we went back to our home communities to begin our project. I can’t even begin to express how much that week has changed the way I view service and working with others, and it has given me concrete skills that I will use for the rest of my life.”
Following that week of training, Williamson visited with those in the El Campo community, while also remembering past experiences as a volunteer at libraries through ECISD Family Literacy, Book Camp and public library reading programs. After identifying that several students suffer from a literacy gap during the summer months, and now perhaps even more so during this extended break from school because of the coronavirus, Williamson’s project, he believes, is very much needed.
“I was just completing the planning stage of the project and beginning fundraising for the trailer when the coronavirus hit, and now more than ever I am realizing just how much we are going to need this project this summer with children not being in school since Spring Break,” Williamson said. “They have lost access to libraries, and many of our targeted audiences do not have their own books at home and have limited access to online reading.”
Williamson’s Ford Leadership Scholar Project will be a trailer stocked with all of the same amenities as Book Camp, but with an emphasis on increasing literacy rates in students outside of the El Campo city limits.
In the summer of 2019, 166 elementary students attended Book Camp, but only 17 of those lived outside of city limits in such areas as Glen Flora, Danevang and Spanish Camp.
But first, a lot of work is needed in order for this vision to be set in place and executed. Donations are needed to stock all aspects of the traveling book library, especially to purchase the trailer itself.
“My current goal is to raise enough money to first purchase the trailer,” he said. “That has always been the greatest obstacle in making this project happen.”
Williamson’s hopes this project will be long-term, and to be manned by volunteers.
“My long term goal for this project is to have it be a sustainable community project beginning this summer. I want the school librarians, organizations or any community member who is willing to volunteer to keep this project a lasting impact for the students for years to come,” he said. “Though I am coordinating this project, it has definitely been a group effort.”
With the help of Book Camp coordinators Stacey Vesely and NaShay Little, the ECISD librarians, ECISD administrators and the FFA chapter, Williamson’s goal is to have the trailer fully functional by this summer.
“FFA members have been working with me to sort books that have already been donated, but they will play an even more instrumental part when the traveling library is completed. My plan is to have volunteers from El Campo FFA both maintaining the trailer and working each time we bring the trailer to an area of El Campo,” he said.
For more information and to find out how you can help Ryan with his community project, contact him at 979-616-0601 or at email@example.com. “I recognize that this is a very uncertain time to be asking for donations, but we hope that those who are able to will see the potential academic benefits this traveling library can bring to the students of ECISD in a time where these literacy materials are most needed,” he said. “Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, we will be able to accept new or gently used book donations.”
Those wishing to donate to the project can make contributions to a GoFundMe account online: gf.me/u/xt5aug.
“Our hope is that the trailer will help lessen the reading slide caused by the closure of schools and the public libraries during summer time and times such as what we are currently experiencing.”
Haley Burrow, a senior at ECHS, serves as historian for the FFA chapter.