Law enforcement officers, first responders and local leaders are banding together for a reading initiative for Bedford County students who are finishing the school year outside a traditional classroom setting — and with no, or limited, access to book stores and libraries.
The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with Bedford County Fire and Rescue, several Bedford County supervisors, and the Bedford County public school system, launched a reading program for students in their community starting April 13. Each day, a video of a member of local law enforcement, a first responder or local government official reading a book is posted online. The videos are pre-recorded and posted on the county sheriff’s YouTube channel.
The reading initiative was conceived by Cpl. David Bishop, of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, and his wife, Alyson Bishop, a third-grade teacher at Bedford Elementary School.
Alyson Bishop was in the middle of reading a chapter book to her class when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close. As a result, she was unable to finish it with her students in person.
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David Bishop periodically appeared to read to students in his wife’s classroom, he said, and he joined her in creating reading videos when life went digital.
“We continued to do that for a little bit, and the idea came up that, ‘Is it possible to do this on a bigger scale?’” he said.
David pitched the idea to Bedford County Sheriff Mike Miller.
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“I said, ‘Hey, my wife and I have been doing this just to her class. Is it possible for us to get the emergency services employees, the fire and rescue, the sheriff’s office, dispatchers, maybe the board of supervisors, get anybody that’s involved to do this, and we upload the videos to YouTube for kids to watch while being at home?’ The sheriff and the command staff loved the idea, and then gave the greenlight to go ahead and get things rolling,” he said.
Selecting between 50 and 75 books from Alyson Bishop’s classroom shelves, David Bishop brought a stack to the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, where volunteer readers could come in on their own time, select a book, record themselves on a computer, then log which book they read so it would not be accidentally repeated.
By the end of the program’s first week, David Bishop said enough recordings were collected to post one every day through the rest of April.
Alyson Bishop said she considers reading the top priority for students, and that is a message she shares with concerned parents who suddenly find themselves having to home school.
“We’re putting out a lot of content of things that we haven’t taught yet in social studies, and science, and parents are kind of overwhelmed,” Alyson Bishop said. “I feel like some of them are coming to us just desperate, saying, ‘What should I do? If you were to pick one thing that’s the most important, what should I do?’ And I would say, ‘Let your kids read, and read with your kids.’ I think reading is the cornerstone of all academic subjects, and I feel like if you can read, it encompasses all.”
David Bishop agreed, saying he and his wife had conversations about how important it was being read to growing up.
“It is amazing how our community has come together to meet the needs of so many citizens during the current pandemic,” Doug Schuch, superintendent of Bedford County Public Schools said. “Not only do these individuals put their lives on the line each day to keep us safe, but they are now assisting our continuity-of-learning efforts by reading to our youngest learners during the school closure.”
In addition to promoting literacy skills for students and possibly helping parents by adding another learning resource, the program provides engagement between students and local leaders.
“Myself, and my wife and my two children graduated from the Bedford County school system. It’s very important for us, not only professionally, but also personally, to have contact with our children in our school system, to be able to help them in any way possible,” Miller said. “This is community policing 101, in how do you reach out to your community in different ways? If we can do this as leaders of our county, I think it would make an impact on our children, and also our citizens.”
Bedford County is not alone in reading books for their community.
The Lynchburg Police Department also has recorded videos of staff reading, sharing them on social media and the department’s YouTube channel. Lynchburg aims to post one video a week, Carrie Dungan, community relations coordinator, said.
Lynchburg Police Department’s storytime started when Sgt. Brandon Eisner asked some of his officers and his lieutenant if they would record themselves reading a book for periodic videos, following the example of Eisner’s wife, who is a teacher, Dungan said.
Amherst County Sheriff’s Office, too, shared a video of Deputy Jordan Cindrick reading a children’s book last week.
“We just want to do anything that we can to help partner with our community and bring people a little bit of light in what sometimes can be a dark time,” Dungan said.
Bedford County’s reading program is scheduled to run through May 29, which would have been the county’s last day of school. If demand remains for the videos, the Bishops said they are prepared to continue reading and sharing videos.
“I think a lot of the kids get a lot from being able to just sit down and watch and listen to someone read a book to them,” David Bishop said.