Ellen DeGeneres donated bookmobile keeps Okla. students reading

Ellen DeGeneres appears during a taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais.

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (AP) — It's not the ice cream truck song that kids in southeast Tulsa keep their ears peeled for in the summer months.

It's Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift blaring over the loudspeakers of the McAuliffe Elementary School Mobile Media Bookmobile.

"We listen for the music," said Amayrany Munoz, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who had her younger siblings in tow at the Rockwood Village mobile home park one Tuesday.

Given to the school two years ago by "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," the big red van makes weekly rounds of apartment complexes and mobile home parks in McAuliffe's feeder pattern, delivering fresh books and cold popsicles to every child who shows up.

"It started from, 'They don't have books. Let's take them books.' Boom. The end," said Kirby Mackenzie, dubbed "Ellen's favorite librarian."

That was five years and thousands of free books ago. A lot has changed in that span.

The Tulsa World(http://bit.ly/2b5EpBv ) reports that Mackenzie and Lisa Shotts, McAuliffe's faculty instructional coach, set out in a private car with a couple of teacher volunteers and a single box of books that first summer. To get the word out to students and their parents, they made yard signs with construction paper and hot glue guns.

The result was, well, pitiful.

"We had maybe one kid at every stop," Mackenzie said. "And we had to try so hard for that one kid."

They needed to turn up the volume. Literally.

"We had the idea that we needed to play loud music, and her fiance — now husband — got us a gasoline generator that we had in the car with us to power the music," said Shotts, laughing at the memory with Mackenzie. "It was the worst thing ever!"

Fortunately, no teacher was asphyxiated by gas fumes in the making of this story. And less than two years later, word of the fledgling summer reading program made its way to Hollywood.

When she learned of the program, Ellen DeGeneres wouldn't hear of the weekly hassle these dedicated educators were going through, loading and unloading a Union Public Schools vehicle each time they went out to deliver books. In early 2014, the show surprised Mackenzie, then McAuliffe's Teacher of the Year, with the big red bookmobile.

Local philanthropic groups have kicked in the dollars to start every McAuliffe student's summer off with 10 free books, which they can then exchange for others at bookmobile stops.

This spring, DeGeneres announced that because of Oklahoma's state budget crisis, she was giving McAuliffe another $25,000 to use as educators there see fit.

The payoff for Mackenzie and Shotts and the other 15 McAuliffe faculty members who now volunteer their time on the bookmobile is in the faces of the students and their younger and older siblings who turn out in droves every Tuesday, despite inclement weather or oppressive summer heat.

"Now, this is a part of their Tuesdays. We see 100-plus kids every week," said Mackenzie. "One of my top-five memories was we had a child miss us and follow us to QuikTrip. We just opened it up right there. I get really sentimental when I think about how we started."

This week, Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." and Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble" were the wake-up calls for kids and parents at the Garden Courtyard, Tower Crossing and Silver Creek apartments.

"We moved here from Ardmore less than a year ago, and we are really impressed with this," said Haley Creswell as she watched her 6-year-old, Haddey Cresswell, carefully seek out Disney princess story books. "We try to come every week, but she has a new baby brother. I like that they really encourage literacy without being forceful."

Katarzyna Mendoza brought her three children and a niece. She said her 5-year-old daughter, Brianah Mendoza, requested a specific kindergarten teacher because of her earlier interactions with the teacher at bookmobile stops.

"They're sad if we can't come. They love the teachers, and this is a good opportunity for them to see them and hug them in the summer, because they miss them," said Mendoza. "McAuliffe is a really unique place. There is not a day my kids don't want to go to school there."

After alerting every man, woman and child in Rockwood Village mobile home park by blasting dance music as they circled the entire property, the bookmobile made its last stop Tuesday.

Despite the morning's heat and sky-high humidity, McAuliffe counselor Twytinna Gardner had enough energy in the tank to try to get a little dance party started as the first children arrived.

"The kids are so great; it doesn't ever feel like work," she said.

Within 10 minutes, more than 30 kids were greeted by name with hugs and high-fives and were perusing bookshelves on the inside and outside of the bookmobile. Among them were brothers Jovani Barrera, 10, and Juan Castro, 11.

"I'm graduated from McAuliffe, but I still come for the Big Nate books. They don't care if you don't go to McAuliffe anymore. They just care if you read," Juan said.


ANDREA EGER, Tulsa World
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Copyright 2016 The Gayly - 8/4/2016 @ 4:47 p.m. CDT