Meet Jessica O’Donel of McKinley Elementary in Beaverton, Oregon
by Matthew
March 23, 2022

We’re pleased to introduce you to Jessica O’Donel.

Jessica is an ESL teacher of 14 years at McKinley Elementary in Beaverton, OR. She’ll be our host when the bus rolls through Beaverton in May of 2023. We asked her to tell us a bit about herself, her school, and her students.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
The students. I love them. I love their curiosity, resilience, perseverance, and joy—and being a part of their moments of learning, discovery and success.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR SCHOOL MAKES YOU PROUDEST?
The way all the staff help each other, how everyone goes above and beyond to create a joyful learning environment. I also am proud of the diversity at my school and how each culture, language, and background is celebrated.

WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE BETTER UNDERSTOOD ABOUT THE CHALLENGES FACING TITLE I SCHOOLS?
I don’t think in general the public realizes the extra load that Title I schools face meeting the basic needs (physical, mental, social-emotional) of students in addition to the academics. I also don’t think they realize the inequity of adult support: there is less staff and fewer adult volunteers in proportion to the student needs, which are often greater than at non-Title I schools.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD WE KNOW ABOUT YOUR SCHOOL?
Our school is located in a “book desert,” and during the pandemic, myself and a group of teachers went door-to-door to hundreds of apartments delivering books each week so kids would have books at home. As in-person school has resumed, about 75% of our students are not reading at grade level. Over the past year since then, the reading coaches and ESL teachers have worked on putting together a lending library at our school. Myself and a few other teachers purchased most of the books with our own money through FirstBook. We are working to get books that are diverse and representative of our students.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE SCHOOL TRADITIONS?
The Parade of Books during Read Across America week in March! Staff and students dress up to represent their favorite books and we have a fun assembly and read-in day.

We applaud and appreciate Jessica and all her dedicated colleagues for working to connect kids with books and the joy of reading.

We cannot wait to meet them, the students, and all the rest of the McKinley community later next year!

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Recently:

The Busload of Books Tour is a year-long project to promote literacy and raise awareness of the challenges facing our nation’s public schools.

Author/illustrator duo Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (that’s us) and our four kids will spend the 2022-2023 school year traveling the country in a school bus/tiny home, visiting Title I schools in all 50 states (plus DC), and giving away 25,000 hardcover books to students and teachers from underserved communities.

As we travel, we will be blogging, vlogging and posting frequently to social media. All of our content will be appropriate for bringing families and students along on our ultimate road trip.

The latest on Instagram:

The Daily Minute: 12.9.22
In which, having just arrived in Texas, we plan to spend the night in Jasper County.

#busloadofbooks
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Robbi got this text from Erica Bridwell (known to friends and colleagues as “B”), the first-grade teacher who hosted Jasper during Tuesday’s visit to North Pike Elementary School in Summit, Mississippi. We signed a copy of Everywhere, Wonder for B, and Robbi had written in the dedication to “keep fighting the good fight.”
 
It’s a difficult time to be a teacher, especially at a school with limited resources and especially when serving kids who bring additional challenges to school. Educators need a boost every bit as much as their students do.
 
We’re sharing this to show that the tour is also for them, and maybe even more so. 
 
“We miss y’all! It felt like a part of us left when y’all did. Y’all have NO IDEA the impact you’re making not only on kids, but adults too! I haven’t had the easiest school year so far. I have felt defeated, frustrated, and overwhelmed. My connection with my students has felt faint and really nonexistent… I’ve struggled to find ways to motivate them, encourage them more… then y’all come along and somehow it has put fire back into me. Your words have made me reflect since I read them… “keep fighting the good fight…” it was powerful. I had that “full moon feeling” that feeling of how much I love what I do. I thought of what it means to me and what those kids mean to me. I remembered why God chose me to do this. Your kind words lifted me up. So thank you. Thank y’all. What y’all are doing is amazing! Safe travels! I’ll be following!”
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The Daily Minute: 12.8.22
In which we bask in the sweet Louisiana night and brace ourselves for the enormity of Texas.

#busloadofbooks
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Whoever you are, take your seat on the bus!

Our adventure is your adventure. Our country is your country, too. Follow along with us!