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Program provides books for first grade students in Maine

Aug 26, 2020

Dirigo Reads, a program that aims to put a book in the hands of Maine first graders each month during the school year by 2025, is announcing the addition of 20 schools that will participate in the program during the next school year. This brings the total number of participating schools to 26 for the 2020-2021 school year, meaning an estimated 700 first graders in Maine will receive new books every month through the program.

“Last year, Dirigo Reads gave out just over 3,300 books to first graders in Maine,” said Karen Cashman, co-founder of Dirigo Reads.

“Despite the challenges that COVID-19 placed on schools and book distributors, it was a very successful year, and we learned so much about how to make this literacy program work on a broader scale. By expanding into 20 new communities, we are expecting to give out about 7,000 books to Maine first graders this year. That is 7,000 chances for kids to grow their literacy skills and love for reading.”

Principal Joyce Fragale of Rose M. Gaffney Elementary in Machias shared what participation in Dirigo Reads has meant to the students and first grade teachers in her school.

“Unfortunately, there are many families for whom the possession of a book is a luxury, and for whom transportation is a barrier to visiting the public library. For many children having a book at their disposal to read over and over again, a book to call their own, is a gift. It is a gift to those of us who are educators as well. The benefits of learning to enjoy reading, surpass the benefits of learning to read, and have a life-long impact on the success of our children."

Dirigo Reads’ mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of children in Maine through literacy and share a little optimism along the way. This is accomplished by giving first graders in participating schools a brand new book to keep during every month of the school year. It began during the last school year with six communities – Brewer, Castine, Dover-Foxcroft, Machias, Madison and Caribou. The 20 additional communities will expand the program within the six counties already being served, as well as into Waldo, Knox, Sagadahoc and Lincoln Counties.

“Karen and I have been fortunate enough to visit some of the schools when these books are handed out,” said Dan Cashman, co-founder of Dirigo Reads.

“The joy and excitement from these first graders is obvious and genuine. Spreading the love for reading as well as the chance to improve literacy skills is an amazing thing to be a part of. We are thankful for such welcoming schools and communities, and the business community for their partnerships.”

Dirigo Reads is operationally supported by United Way of Eastern Maine and the founding Dirigo Star partner is Machias Savings Bank.

“We are excited for year two of Dirigo Reads,” said Larry Barker, president and CEO of Machias Savings Bank.

“There is no better foundation for a child than strong reading skills. It all starts there. If kids are given the opportunity not only to enhance their reading skills, but also to find a passion for reading, then that’s a win-win. Dirigo Reads’ mission is a noble one, and Machias Savings Bank is proud to support it in such a meaningful way.”

Additional partners of Dirigo Reads include Cross Insurance, Bangor Savings Bank, United Way of Eastern Maine, Northern Light Health, Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications and The First. Additional partners will be announced in the coming weeks.

“We’ve set the bar for year two of Dirigo Reads, but now comes the important part of gearing up for year three,” said Dan Cashman. “If we are going to meet the goal of including every community and public school in Maine by 2025, we have to continue to build support with businesses. So far, that support has been strong and we are very pleased with it. There are lots of options from which to support Dirigo Reads for both large and small businesses, and we will continue to reach out to potential partners, but we would love to hear from anyone who might be looking to get involved in some way.”

There are about 12,000 first graders enrolled in Maine public schools. Dirigo Reads provided books to about 2% of this population in the last school year, and will increase to about 6% of first graders in Maine for the 2020-2021 school year.

Local towns that are participating in Dirigo Reads for the 2020-2021 school year are by county:

Knox

Friendship

Union

Warren

Washington

Lincoln

Waldoboro

Waldo

Searsport

Winterport

Schools and businesses interested in being a part of Dirigo Reads should visit DirigoReads.org and click on “Contact,” where a form is available to submit all necessary information.

Any organizations interested in partnering with Dirigo Reads or schools with first grade classes that would like to join the program can find more details at DirigoReads.org.

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