The Reading Riders Program, a reading initiative for school bus riders, begun by WISD Transportation Department fuel technician, Jim Murley, about four years ago, has been recognized, not only locally, but knowledge of it has reached Austin and the White House.

Murley discovered years ago while driving a bus for Duncanville ISD that he could quickly develop a bond with students – even knowing them by name.

“I felt like something could be done that would encourage the students to do something beside picking on each other and being noisy, so I could better focus on driving,” Murley said, saying he developed the idea of providing books for students to read while on the way to school each day. “I think God gave me the idea and so I took it and ran with it.”

He told his passengers that if they would read a book in a two-week period, he would give them a reward.

“I went to Dollar Tree and bought some shiny, decorative pencils for prizes,” he said. “The program started out slow, but after three or four students finished reading books and were publicly recognized, the program took off like gang-busters – you know, kids love to be recognized and rewarded.”

Eventually, more books were donated, including books received from John Caldwell, a former employee with the transportation departments. Before he knew what had happened, Murley had two boxes of books.

“Big Lots donated a bookshelf so we could keep the books here at the transportation department,” he said. “Then we received another bookshelf – and finally, two years ago, we received a grant from the Waxahachie Education Foundation for $2,000 to purchase more books.”

Murley consulted with a few school librarians to find out which books were the most beneficial for the daily bus riders and soon, he discovered some great results of the program.

“A third-grade student with a first-grade reading level started in our program and, four weeks later, his teacher discovered his reading level increased to above third-grade level,” he said. “They asked him what was different and he credited his results to reading books on the bus.”

Murley noted that Nicole Mansell, director of public relations for WISD, contacted the Waxahachie Daily Light to interview Murley. He wrote a letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and President George W. Bush about the program.

“Soon, we received letters of commendation from both the governor and the president of the United States concerning the Reading Riders Program,” Murley said.

Other merchants have become involved in the program, including Cici’s Pizza, Walmart, Big Lots, H-E-B and Six Flags over Texas; they have provided gift certificates and tickets for prizes.

“Just five minutes of reading over a five-day period can really pay off for them,” Murley said. “This program isn’t about me – it’s about the students and their desire to utilize their time in a productive way while on their way to school.

Contact Paul at paul.gauntt@wninews.com or 469-517-1450.