ETSU Book Bus will have grand opening celebration in Elizabethton June 16

Published 4:13 pm Thursday, June 8, 2023

JOHNSON CITY – ETSU Health’s “ReadNPlay for a Bright Future” program, in partnership with Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation and Ballad Health, announces a Book Bus that will bring books, literacy resources, and educational activities to neighborhoods in Northeast Tennessee.

ReadNPlay is one of 18 partners in Tennessee awarded book bus grant funding from GELF in 2022. Ballad Health’s population health department, through its Community Health Improvement program and the Michal, Joseph L. Sr. and Mary B. Harris Michal, M.D., MPH Community Pediatrics Endowment, also provided financial support.

The bus began traveling in May. A ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at 12:15 p.m. June 16 at ETSU Health Pediatrics Elizabethton, 1505 West Elk Avenue, Suite 2b. Activities and giveaways will follow until 3 p.m.

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ReadNPlay for a Bright Future is a collaborative initiative led by ETSU Health Pediatricians to support families to Play More: shut off the screens; Play Together: be active as a family; Play Safely and eat healthy: Fuel to Play. The ReadNPlay Book Bus features characters from the program’s book series along with Pepper, ETSU’s therapy dog, and Booker, GELF’s mascot. BMC Creative in the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine designed all the ReadNPlay materials.

“As pediatric providers and educators, we are thankful to have this opportunity to care for our community in such a unique and engaging way,” said Dr. Karen Schetzina, vice chair of academic pediatrics for ETSU’s Department of Pediatrics and director of the Child and Family Health Institute (CFHI). “Reading aloud and shared reading activities help young children learn language and early literacy skills that can support later school success.

“We are also excited to partner with fellow CFHI member and ETSU Health clinical dietitian,Dr. Michelle Johnson from the ETSU Department of Rehabilitative Sciences, to include a mobile kitchen on the ReadNPlay Book Bus to improve access to healthy foods and nutrition education in the region,” Dr. Schetzina added.

“Reading well is the most important skill a child will learn, as almost everything in our world requires good reading and comprehension – without it, children are at a significant disadvantage, and that disadvantage can perpetuate throughout generations,” said Dr. Paula Masters, Ballad Health’s vice president of population health. “A low literacy rate affects our entire community, and it’s going to take a community effort to overcome. Working with ETSU Health and the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation to make books accessible and make reading fun and engaging for whole families has the potential to create the communitywide, generational change that can give our entire region a brighter future.”

Through GELF’s Book Bus program, partnering school districts and organizations retrofit a decommissioned school bus or storage trailers with shelving to house literacy resources. These book buses then travel to neighborhoods and community events during the summer, creating an engaging learning space for families. Many serve communities faced with challenges to book access, such as library deserts or low-income neighborhoods, and partner with organizations offering additional services, such as food programs or health care providers. Educators distribute resources and lead reading workshops to combat learning loss and increase adult-child engagement with literacy.

Currently, only about one-third of Northeast Tennessee’s third grade students are reading proficiently. Research shows that students who do not read over the summer lose two to three months of reading proficiency (a phenomena known as Summer Slide) causing a student to already be behind at the start of the following school year. Reading four to six books has the potential to mitigate, stop or even reverse “Summer Slide.”

GELF launched its Book Bus program in 2018, in partnership with local school systems, to establish mobile libraries that provide children and communities with access to high-quality resources. Driven by a mission to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee, GELF’s Book Bus program aims to combat student learning loss and promote a culture of reading outside of school by providing continued access to high-quality books and literacy tools. GELF has supported a total of 29 Book Bus programs since 2018.

“We are very proud of the Book Bus program and are grateful for the local partners in every community, who make this initiative possible,” said James Pond, GELF president. “By bringing mobile libraries directly to Tennessee neighborhoods, we want to meet kids where they are, where they play, where they live, with the resources they need to continue reading and learning outside of the classroom.”

GELF provides two different grant opportunities for interested partners to launch or support an existing Book Bus in their community. The annual grant cycle opens in March. With support from Delta Dental of Tennessee and other corporate funding partners, GELF has provided grant funding to support 29 Book Buses.

For more information on how to apply or locate a bus near you, visit or email Follow @ReadNPlay on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for up-to-date information on ReadNPlay Book Bus stops.