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Reading riders: Moses Lake school bus driver collects books for kids

by JOEL MARTIN
Staff Writer | May 10, 2024 1:30 AM

MOSES LAKE — A Moses Lake school bus driver has found a way to encourage students to love the written word. Tony Lavalle, known to his young passengers as Mr. Tony, has begun distributing books to the students who ride his bus to and from Groff Elementary School.

“This year, I started Read a Book Monday,” Lavalle said. “The student comes on board and they read a book, and that usually keeps them quiet, and it keeps them in their seat. This is a really effective tool for me to help manage the kids to ride safe and ride respectfully.”

The other thing reading a book does is earn the student what’s called “Gator Tracks,” points students can redeem at the student store. 

“I kind of noticed as the year has gone on, (students would say) ‘They don't have any more books, I gotta wait. My library day’s not till Thursday,'” Lavalle said.

Last year, Lavalle started looking around for books to give away, with the idea of giving one to each student at the end of the year. He had no children of his own, he said, so he didn’t have children’s books lying around. However, found some at garage sales and thrift stores, and a couple of boxes were donated to him. 

“I made up little boxes with (books for) young kids, middle-grade readers and more advanced readers,” he said. “In the morning, I just left a couple of boxes scattered throughout my bus and the kids were saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I've wanted to read this one,’ and they're trading back and forth.”

Lavalle isn’t much of a social media user, but he posted a request on Craigslist and his sister Amy Ward put out a request on Facebook as well, as well as getting the word out to the Lioness Club and her church.

“So far, it's been pretty successful,” Ward said. “Lots of the neighborhood people seem to really be happy to donate their kids’ books.”

“(I made the Craigslist ad) just on the off chance that it might spur somebody that's doing their spring cleaning,” Lavalle said. “Or maybe the books that didn't sell at a garage sale, they could donate them to a good cause. And then they'll get read again to kids during summer.”

Lavalle is still looking for books to give out, he said, and if he gets more than his passengers can read, he’ll share with other bus drivers.

His boss, MLSD Transportation Director Lorri Smith, said handing out books is a great way to keep students behaving.

“We have to find other ways to reward students because Washington state law does not allow school bus drivers to hand food out to students,” she said. “So the days of giving them some candy or something like that are over.”

Lavalle said some students on his bus have surprised him with their reading habits.

“I got a lot of (books for) the younger readers level, like ‘Dick and Jane,’ ‘See Spot Run,” he said. “But I've got a couple of fifth-graders that they've got on my bus with Harry Potter, ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘The Hunger Games,’ (books) like those. They're super advanced readers, but I thought those books were well beyond a fifth-grade reading level. So books … like Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia – I'd like a few of those.”

District officials applaud Lavalle's efforts to keep students reading.

“I'm thrilled that this is something that Tony has come up with ... so that other kids can continue to get books … to look at when they start their summer,” Smith said.

Joel Martin may be reached at jmartin@columbiabasinherald.com. He is an avid reader and father himself.

Want to contribute? 

Donations can be brought to the MLSD Transportation Department at 940 E Yonezawa Blvd. Frederick’s Jewelry, at 208 W. Third Ave. downtown, will also accept donations Saturdays when the MLSD is closed.