Five children were already waiting on the curb when the row of cars sporting yellow Lacy’s Lions flags pulled into the Grand Arbor Reserve apartment complex Thursday afternoon.
Lacy Elementary School’s bookmobile had arrived, and students were anxious to spend time reading with teachers and volunteers.
The bookmobile is making regular stops at the West Raleigh complex off Lake Boone Trail this summer, a year after it was briefly banned from the property. Landmark Apartment Trust, which owned Grand Arbor Reserve at the time, said a company policy forbade any event at the complex unless it was sponsored by Landmark.
The ban sparked outrage from some critics who took to social media and called the company’s actions “shameful” and “atrocious.”
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Florida-based Landmark quickly reversed the ban and allowed the bookmobile to continue visiting.
“I couldn’t believe (the ban) happened,” said Socorro Villa, a Grand Arbor resident whose children have been visiting the bookmobile since it began in 2014. “The kids are really happy they are back.”
Once a week during the summer, teachers and volunteers from the Raleigh school fill their cars with donated books and travel to apartment complexes to read with Lacy Elementary students and meet with parents. The goal is to keep kids learning during the summer break so they’ll be prepared when school starts again in August, and also to help students build a home library.
“It’s a good way to get the students interested in reading and to build community,” said Laura Black, a fourth-grade teacher at Lacy. “It shows them that we care and want them to succeed.”
On Thursday, a few dozen children gathered on blankets spread across the lawn at Grand Arbor Reserve. They rummaged through bins of books, sorted according to grade level, and pulled out titles such as “Harry the Dirty Dog,” “The Tale of Despereaux” and Nancy Drew mystery novels.
Volunteers handed out Goldfish crackers, candy and bottled water – sweet relief in the 90-degree weather. Some kids plopped down in teachers’ laps to listen to a story, while others read to a volunteer or friend.
After Landmark banned the bookmobile last summer, the project received more than $1,500 in donations. Landmark donated $500.
Teachers and volunteers used the money to buy more supplies, including books that feature more diverse characters, said Lacy Principal Candace Watson. Now students can take home two books each time they attend a weekly session.
Last summer, Landmark said that once it got documentation from the school that the volunteers from the bookmobile have been fully vetted, it would “confidently support the program for next year and many years to come.”
In October, Landmark was acquired by Monument Partners, which is owned by affiliates of Starwood Capital Group and Milestone Apartments Real Estate Investment Trust. Representatives of the company could not be reached for comment.
Lacy Elementary students typically perform better on end-of-grade tests than their peers in Wake County and across the state.
During the 2014-15 school year, 73 percent of Lacy students were proficient in reading. The proficiency rate for Wake County schools overall was 65 percent, and the statewide rate was 56 percent.
Meanwhile, 21.2 percent of Lacy students with limited English skills were proficient in reading. That was lower than the Wake County rate of 21.4 percent but higher than the statewide rate of 18 percent.
At Grand Arbor Reserve, many families speak Spanish and other foreign languages. For parents who don’t speak English as their primary language, it can be tough to help their children with school work.
Carlos Corpus-Morales used to visit the bookmobile when he was a student at Lacy. Now a seventh-grader, he volunteers with the program and encourages children to read.
“The bookmobile helped me because I couldn’t read very well when I came,” he said. “Now I like to help my brother, sister and other kids learn to read.”
Villa said the bookmobile has been a valuable resource. Some students bring their siblings along when the bookmobile visits.
“My kids’ reading has improved,” she said.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952, @madisoniszler