Dirigo Reads Keeps the Love of Reading Going Past the Age of 5

May is Get Caught Reading Month! To celebrate, we’re highlighting the work of of Dirigo Reads and all they do to share opportunities for Maine children to get caught reading all year long!

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

As life-long lovers of literacy, we will never forget the feeling of receiving the Raising Readers tote bursting with new books to explore when both our daughters were born—not to mention the excitement they would have to receive a new book during their regular well child care visits! We felt so fortunate to have such an amazing literacy program right here in Maine.

In 2018, we sought to develop a Maine-based initiative that would keep the momentum of programs like Raising Readers going throughout a child’s first grade year. The literacy skills a child develops in the first grade will likely follow them through grade school and into adulthood. A study put out by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching states,

“There is almost a 90% probability that a child will remain a poor reader at the end of fourth grade if the child is a poor reader at the end of first grade.”

So, we launched the Dirigo Reads program in 2019 with a goal of putting a new book in the hands of every first grader in Maine each month during the school year by 2025.

We started with just six pilot sites in 2019, schools with educators who believed in the program and were willing to allow us to work with them to figure out the flow of the program. We are now about to close out our 2020-2021 school year with 26 participating schools and look forward to bringing on additional schools in this next year.

By the end of their first grade year, all children within participating schools have a personal library of 10 books that they can call their own, read over and over again, snuggle with at night, and use as an escape when the world seems too much—like with the COVID-19 pandemic. Dirigo Reads aims to help all kids, regardless of economic status, have an equitable start with literacy during those critical early years. Kids are, after all, curious by nature. So, we try to expose them to age-appropriate books on a wide variety of interesting topics with bright, fun graphics to keep their young minds excited and engaged.

As two full-time working parents who happen to also have a passion for literacy, we are grateful for the success of Dirigo Reads, but as the saying goes, it takes a village. Dirigo Reads would not be possible without incredible partners who are invested in ensuring Maine kids have a successful start, like Machias Savings Bank, our Dirigo Star Founding Partner, and the many other partners who have contributed to this effort. In addition, the Book Advisory Council, a group of teachers, literacy specialists, and community members who help to make sure our book selections are age-appropriate in topic and skill level, engaging, and fun. And finally, the participating schools, who have placed their trust in this program and worked with us, even through a global pandemic, to make sure their first graders receive their new books each month. We recognize distributing these books also takes time on their end.

If you’d like to learn more about Dirigo Reads, we invite you to visit us at www.dirigoreads.org.

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