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There (Was) a Bus in Martha Washington Square!: A Look into Robbi and Matthew's WAC Presentation

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

By Avery Castellani

One morning during the week of September 12th, the students of Washington College awoke to find a bright, colorful schoolbus parked in Martha Washington Square. Many wondered what in the world it was doing there. Little did they know, that same bus had spent the last year visiting all 50 states across the country, and that this merely marked its return home to where it all began. Either through emails or posters, the WAC community soon learned that this was simply a warmup for a full-on presentation from drivers of the bus, Matthew and Robbi.

On September 14th, Matthew, Robbi, and the rest of their family continued their Chestertown welcome back tour at the Decker Theater on the Washington College campus. This marked the first time their family and the entire Busload of Books research team that worked with them throughout their travels were together in-person, an occasion made all the more special by the amount of students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members that came to support us.

To kick things off, the BoB team further monopolized Martha Washington Square for an ice cream social. Early guests were able to partake in a number of sweet treats while touring the bus and talking with the student interns at the research team table (where we gave away quite a lot of personalized BoB stickers!)

Afterward, the crowd headed inside the theater to hear from Matthew and Robbi directly. Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives Michael Harvey briefly introduced the dynamic duo by welcoming them back home once more, and they walked onstage to raucous applause. The presentation that followed can only be described as equal parts informative, comedic, and heartfelt.

Through a series of photos and illustrations done by Robbi herself, the pair launched into both their and the tour's "origin stories." This section of the presentation was something I and the rest of the team had been lucky enough to witness before, as it was originally part of the assembly given across the country. Once the dreams of the tour were realized, however, they segued into details from their trip. We saw landmarks, museums, and the faces of dozens upon dozens of smiling students that had been positively impacted by Matthew and Robbi's visit.

One of the central theses of their presentation was that the most important things we can do for these children is love and care about them. Many of the students they encountered were surprised and overjoyed that they had taken the time to come and visit them specifically.

In one of my favorite stories of the night, Robbi described a shy young man that came up to her after the presentation and asked to show her something in private. When she accepted, he pulled out a drawing he had done and told her that he now believed he could be an illustrator too. This is just one example of a much larger phenomenon that explains why the BoB tour was so important.

To close out their individual portion of the presentation, Matthew and Robbi urged those in attendance to get involved with local Title 1 schools through volunteering, substituting, and more. For their hard work, Chestertown mayor David Foster joined them onstage and gifted them with an official document proclaiming September 19th "Matthew and Robbi Day."

Sounds like a tough act to follow, right? Well, BoB research team members Dr. Sara Clarke De-Reza, Dr. Bridget Bunten, Dr. Nick Garcia, and Riley McHugh were more than ready to step up to the plate and further validate Matthew and Robbi's anecdotes with supplemental data. Together, they addressed the question on everyone's minds: whether author events affect students’ attitudes, beliefs and motivations regarding reading, writing and drawing. According to the team, the preliminary data that's been analyzed shows that the answer is a resounding, positive yes.

These findings are important not only because they mark an immense, personal success for Matthew, Robbi, and the research team, but because their statistically significant impact can be used to support future visits for schools just like the ones the BoB tour prioritized. As alluded to on the blog before, our work with this dataset is far from over, and what we've discovered so far only further proves that. This evening and its presentation helped instill the same excitement we've been feeling in our audience of students, staff, and community members alike.

In his closing statement for the evening, Miller Director of Civic Engagement Dr. Pat Nugent highlighted that while "the road trip may be over, the journey is only beginning." As someone who's been able to see this project evolve over the past year and a half, I agree with Dr. Nugent's sentiment that the scope of it is truly awe-inspiring.

We are beyond lucky to have Matthew, Robbi, and our own little research team located right here in Chestertown. Through this work, greater research and advocacy has begun, but the process of bringing people together has been happening.

Did you miss the presentation? Or do you want to relive the excitement all over again? You're in luck! Click the link below to watch the full livestream.



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