SCHENECTADY -- Eliza Shahabuddeen, who will start fourth-grade at Keane Elementary next week, scored a pile of books in Central Park Tuesday afternoon.
“I got this this, this and this,” she said, flipping through the books too quickly to catch a glimpse of the titles.
Dozens of other school-age kids joined Eliza Tuesday, as a team of Schenectady teachers and staff threw one last book parties for Schenectady kids before the summer comes to a close and students return to school -- on Sept. 6. A group of volunteer teachers have set out across the city this summer in a car filled with district books, called the bookmobile, setting up makeshift libraries in city parks and at events, with the aim of pumping up enthusiasm and interest in reading throughout the year.
“I like reading because it gets me more knowledge,” Eliza said.
Local barbers and beauticians were also on hand to give out free haircuts and manicures to help students look their best for the start of the school year.
Over the summer, the bookmobile team has provided around 1,700 books to kids, up from about 300 books last summer. Scheduling around other community events, the bookmobile has made about 15 stops this summer. About 45 district employees helped run the block party; between eight and 20 volunteers helped staff the bookmobile throughout the summer.
Now in its second year, the bookmobile has been run out of different teachers' cars; the team loaded up a mobile library worth of books and headed off to different events around town, checking the books out to students just as they would from a school library. Kerri Messler, the district’s English coordinator and a bookmobile organizer, said the team was hoping to come up with a dedicated vehicle for future events. She also said community organizations have started to reach out, as more people catch wind of what the bookmobile team has been up to this summer.
“As more and more people find out what we are doing, they say, 'Hey, can the bookmobile stop here?'” Messler said. “Having 1,700 books in the hands of kids in the summer when they wouldn’t have had them before, that in and of itself is a success.”
At the block party on Tuesday, a steady stream of kids lined up beside tables stacked with books for kids off all ages.
Kristina Graves, a Mont Pleasant Middle School librarian, said the most popular books are by authors who have visited the district, or those primed to be turned into a movie.
“Every book is popular,” Graves said.
The most popular book on Tuesday was "The Hate U Give," by Angie Thomas, which the district will use in reading clubs once school starts. She had about 12 copies of the book to start the day, and within two hours, she was down to the last copy.
Parmesh Thakoordial, a rising eighth-grader at Mont Pleasant Middle School, was leaving the block party with Children of Blood and Bone, a popular young adult fantasy novel by Tomi Adeyemi. He said he planned on cracking open the thick book as soon as he got home.
“English teachers rave about this book,” he said. Parmesh said he checked out other books from the bookmobile earlier this summer. “It’s very good, because kids don’t have access to books over the summer.”
Parmesh’s younger brother Randy, who starts third-grade at Pleasant Valley Elementary School next week, left the event with a copy of a short kids book based on the Black Panther comic series and popular film. He wasn’t the only boy leaving with the Black Panther.
“It’s good to learn,” Randy said when asked what he likes about reading.
In addition to the books, barbers and nail techs, Tuesday's event featured an information stand by Schenectady police, complete with a pair of basketball hoops. Hot dogs and pizza were also served.
“A fresh haircut -- it’s all about how you present yourself … we can teach them now how to go out there and look nice and get what you want,” said Terrance Flowers, owner of Grayscale Barber Lounge in Colonie, as he trimmed a kid’s buzzed hair. “Nice and neat and clean never goes out of style.”
District staff also rolled out the new Fab Lab, a trailer GE donated to the district that is filled with 3D printers and a laser cutter. The Fab Lab will be used across the district to teach students about science and engineering.
Katy Perry – the science, technology, engineering and math coach at the high school – showed off the new equipment by using the laser cutter to carve students' names into books.
“Fingers crossed,” Perry said, as she set the machine to carve Avion into the inside cover of a book, acknowledging the trial and error of new technology. “That’s what science is all about; it may or may not work.”