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Dirigo Reads: Bringing a Sense of Comfort During the Pandemic

| Community Partners

This post was written by our friends Karen and Dan Cashman, Co-founders of Dirigo Reads.

There is no question that during the COVID-19 pandemic so many people have endured hardships and challenges. Hardship was certainly felt by the schools that participated in Dirigo Reads, a statewide program that aims to get new books in the hands of public school first graders each month of the school year.

During the program’s second year, the pandemic was upon us. There were many unknowns to be answered about what the year might look like for Maine kids—if there was even going to be a full school year at all. Many of our participating schools were managing new hybrid models of teaching as well as finding innovative ways to safely allow students to learn together. And, even when they had to think differently about how to distribute Dirigo Reads books to their first graders, they made it happen in the classrooms, through their lunch programs, and in collaboration with parents. The success of the program is largely thanks to the unwavering dedication of the teachers, administrators, and staff in our schools. After all, they knew all too well the large positive effect that receiving a new book during such a difficult year could have for their students. It meant early readers, some without a home library of their own, could continue practicing reading safely at home.

One administrator from Greenville in 2021 commented, “The Dirigo Reads Program has opened up equal access doors to many grade one students in my small rural town. All of my students were able to take their books home. In doing so, they could read THEIR books to caregivers, siblings, pets, and others. Students valued the books—not only for reading but they also had a sense of pride in caring for the books.”

While we may never get back to the pre-pandemic normalcy of the past, the Dirigo Reads books have brought forth a sense of comfort that has carried many students through this challenge and, hopefully, any potential challenges to come.

Since the beginning of Dirigo Reads in 2019, an estimated 2,707 first graders have been served and provided with a library of ten new books, distributed throughout the course of the year. To learn more about Dirigo Reads, visit us at www.dirigoreads.org or check out the Dirigo Reads Annual Report.