MAPLE GROVE, Minn. – Elementary students in Osseo School District 279 didn't realize what doors were about to open when they stepped on bus #222 this school year.
School bus driver Perry May, 58, of Maple Grove, was about to take them farther than they ever imagined.
He challenged them to open their backpacks and read books on the way to school, as a way to keep calm on a noisy bus.
“There was a little hesitancy,” said May. “But on a bus like this you can get 40, 50, 60 kids. They all have different personalities and it can get pretty loud. So just trying to remove one distraction, you have all the traffic you have to deal with.”
With safety top of mind, it didn’t take long for his bus to become a library in the fast lane, as students began to lose themselves in the stories, and gain confidence in their abilities. Some of the kindergartners partnered with second- and third-graders to help them read harder words.
“We have 26 kids that have read 112 books,” said May. “I had one boy that had a 600-page chapter book.”
May knows the worlds opened by words as a retired General Mills engineer, whose work took him to six continents. He also holds a master’s degree.
“Books drive curiosity," said May. "It’s a gateway skill to continuous learning and lifetime learning."
May hands out “Bus Bucks” to students when they complete a book, and then donates $1 of his own funds for every book read on the bus to the school’s library.
“We know when children read 20 minutes a day they are more proficient readers," said Dan Wald, Cedar Island Elementary Principal. "What Perry May has done is taken responsibility and shown the children, you can take what is downtime, make that productive."
Somehow, in two semesters, the short trip to Cedar Island Elementary became the journey of a lifetime, thanks to a bus driver who turned the page of possibility.
“Anytime you have a chance to make a child more successful, they have a better chance to compete on a global scale, reading is really the key,” said May.
In the last week of school, who could write a better ending?
“I finished two chapters and I'm on my third chapter,” shouted a student as she stepped off the bus.
“Good job, you did wonderful,” May called back as he closed the door.