Parent Express brings literacy party to New London, Groton children

First-grade students from the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School board Wednesday, Dec. 16 the “Parent Express” a bus used to tout and encourage the importance of literacy. (Izaskun E. Larrañeta/The Day)
First-grade students from the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School board Wednesday, Dec. 16 the “Parent Express” a bus used to tout and encourage the importance of literacy. (Izaskun E. Larrañeta/The Day)

New London — When Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, conceived the idea of spreading the importance of literacy, she knew she wanted to do something different and outside the traditional classroom.

"I thought to myself, 'Why are party buses just for parties?'" Samuel said. "Why can't it be used for something else? That's why I decided to use a party bus to celebrate literacy... to make it a surreal experience for the children, because reading is fun."

The parents union, an organization that helps parents, guardians and families advocate for the educational rights of children, brought the party bus — known as the "Parent Express" — to the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School on Wednesday.

First-graders and kindergarteners boarded the bus, where they got to meet author Bryon V. Garrett, who read his book, "There's Greatness on the Inside."

The party bus is decorated like a classroom. Posters on the windows encourage reading, financial literacy and unity. Banners hanging from the ceiling say, "Congrats" and "Grad" because the children are encouraged to see themselves as graduates of higher learning.

"You keep hearing that parents are not engaged, and that really bothered me," Samuel said. "...sometimes parents don't know how to get involved other than joining a PTO or PTA. What I learned is that, if you get to the children and talk to them about important issues, it will get to the parents, and parents do listen to their children."

Samuel also used the Parent Express bus to kick off the parents union's annual "'Tis the Season to be Reading" event. New London was the first stop and this was the first time the event was held in the region.

The Parent Express also was visiting the New London Public Library and the Navy Youth Center in Groton Wednesday.

In all, the bus will tour seven cities, concluding in Hartford on Saturday. 

Samuel also invited Charles Harris Jr., a financial consultant from New York Life Insurance Company, to speak to the children about saving for the future.

"In my community in Philadelphia, we did not talk about wealth," Harris said. "My focus is on financial literacy so we can create a legacy for people and create better futures... and you are never too young to start thinking about your future."

Garrett, who has been touring and promoting his book, said he has encountered children who have never owned a book or met an author.

They have never met someone who looks like them in professional roles, he said.

"They need exposure to see what the future can look like," said Garrett, who is also chairman of the National Family Engagement Alliance.

Garrett's book encourages the students to believe in themselves and to have faith that they can make their dreams a reality.

After the reading of his book, one little boy said, "Whatever you think of, you can be it."

i.larraneta@theday.com

Twitter: @larraneta

First-grade students from the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School aboard the “Parent Express” a bus used to tout and encourage the importance of literacy. (Izaskun E. Larrañeta/The Day)
First-grade students from the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School aboard the “Parent Express” a bus used to tout and encourage the importance of literacy. (Izaskun E. Larrañeta/The Day)

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