Education

School Principal's 'Tour of Somerville' Features One Bicycle, a Honking Horn, Hundreds of Students and Hundreds of Books

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Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Credits: Rod Hirsch
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Credits: Rod Hirsch
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SOMERVILLE, NJ – The minute she pedaled her bicycle out of the Van DerVeer Elementary School parking lot Monday, Principal Susan Haynes literally redefined the meaning of “Book Tour.”

Whereas authors get writer’s cramp from signing so many autographs on bookplates, Haynes expects to wake up the next few days with aches in her calf and thigh muscles from riding her pink and turquoise Verse Electra bike in search of her 450 students.

She set off on her own “Tour of Somerville” early Monday morning, cycling through town with a backpack and a wire basket filled with free books on the rear fender, determined to put those books into the hands of her young students.

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Haynes calls her initiative "Pedaling Paperbacks for Pupil Progress," wearing a T-shirt with that slogan to promote the book tour.

She was accompanied by the school’s music teacher, Patti Helwig.

Haynes will continue to refill her backpack and basket at the school’s Book Nook the remainder of the summer, with plans to ride through town Monday through Thursday each week until the opening of school in September.

She announced her presence wherever she rode her bike by squeezing the bulb of her old-fashioned bicycle horn, which emitted the classic “honka-honka” sound.

Haynes and Helwig made their first stop Monday at the Michael Lepp Spray Park on Park Avenue, where they found a handful of their students and their moms cooling off on a hot summer day.

“Were you surprised to see me ride here on my bike,” Haynes asked the small gathering of students.

It took little coaxing for the students to surround Haynes and pick through the stacks of books that soon made their way into a scattered pile on the ground.

“I see one that you’d like, Henry,” a young girl said to her younger brother.

After spending time with the children and their moms, it was time to go. Haynes and Helwig gathered what books remained on the ground and replaced them in the basket and backpack.

Then, they were on their way, with Haynes in the lead, honking her horn and talking over her shoulder to Helwig as they pedaled down Park Avenue towards the county complex. They wound up on the corner of South Grove Street and East Cliff Street, where Haynes stopped to hand out books to a young father pushing his son in a stroller. They spoke for a few minutes while Helwig engaged a mother and her two sons in conversation across the street. Haynes crossed the street with her book basket and handed out more books.

“Read, read, read, and read some more,” Helwig said.

“He’s doing so well with his reading,” the mother told her son’s principal, thanking her for the books.

Haynes and Helwig headed back to the school after about 45 minutes, parked their bicycles in the hallway, sat down and indulged in an ice pop.

Haynes' bicycle was donated by the Somerville Bicycle Shop on North Gaston Avenue; the book bag was donated by Costco, which will donate identical bags for all students at Van DerVeer School next month, according to Haynes.

On Tuesday, Haynes plans to return to the municipal swimming pool at the Spray Park in the afternoon; many of her students attend the Martin Luther King Community Center day camp in Bridgewater, which has scheduled a field trip to the pool.

Later in the week she hopes to pedal through more neighborhoods and visit the YMCA.

She’ll use her weekly voice stream broadcast on Tuesday morning to encourage students to come out and meet her.

When Haynes returned home from school Monday, she found bags of donated books outside her front door. Word has spread about her bike tour via Facebook and the Tap into Somerville news website.

“They’re all books for boys, which is awesome,” Haynes said. 

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