PORTLAND — An educational nonprofit based in Portland, and with reach across the entire state, is responding to calls for support from teachers around Maine.
Educate Maine announced March 27 the launch of its 2,020 books challenge to support Maine’s students and businesses during COVID-19 by working to provide students with access to books.
The project is aiming to primarily serve students without internet access at home and whose families are participating in meal pickup or delivery through their schools, according to Katherine Johnston, the project’s organizer.
Educate Maine’s vision, according to its website, is that “all Maine people will reach their greatest educational and economic potential to power a vibrant, globally competitive Maine economy.”
“We are a business-led non-profit,” said Johnston. “From an organizational standpoint, this challenge is the perfect link between education and the economy: we can facilitate a community challenge that supports students and local business directly at the same time.”
When the nonprofit corresponded with teachers at the beginning of the pandemic, which has closed school campuses across the state, how Educate Maine and community members across the state can provide assistance to teachers and students, many teachers noted they were aware of students at their respective schools without access to the internet or print books at home.
“We are asking teachers to identify (but not name to us) the students who fit both of these criteria, and to spread the word to their other colleagues who also know of students in this position,” she said. “We are asking teachers to come up with [approximately] 3-5 students who are the most in need so that we can spread the books out as much as possible across counties and schools.”
In fact, one teacher from Lincoln County told the organization they wish they had the funds to purchase books to be sent home to their students. The teacher noted their school, area libraries and bookstore closed before most could stock up.
“We’re organizing educators by county to take the lead in identifying students, placing orders, and coordinating safe distribution of the books,” Johnston said. “We’re starting with the educators who are part of our County Teachers of the Year alumni network — those who have demonstrated exemplary teaching and leadership within their communities.”
Educate Maine has a network of more than 100 educators across every county in the state and at several schools within each county, Johnston noted.
“We’re looking to them to be our ‘boots on the ground’ due to their close relationships with local kids and families and their networks with other educators,” she said. “As awareness of the challenge grows, we are welcoming any educator (they are our future teachers of the year!) to reach out and I will connect them to others in the same region who are helping us with distribution.”
Educate Maine is seeking donations of online gift cards, in any amount, to one of the state’s bookstores, preferably an independent bookstore to support local businesses.
The organization asks that Johnston be designated as the online gift card recipient through her email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that she may forward the gift card on to a participating teacher for purchase and distribution. (If a bookstore does not offer an online gift card option, Educate Maine encourages asking the store about generating a credit and notifying Johnston via email about coordinating an alternative method.)
Once an online gift card has been purchased, Educate Maine asks donors to complete a brief online form to help the organization keep track of its progress toward 2,020 books and allowing donors to specify a particular part of the state for the donation to go.
The organization will be working with educators and booksellers to safely get books to kids through the mail or local meal distribution infrastructure.
“One thing I really love about this challenge is that it is tangible and builds a sense of community,” said Johnston. “Individual contributors are calling and reaching out to bookstores directly. There is the direct connection to the business that way. And educators will be placing orders from the bookstores, which will be recommending books. Educators and community members are coming together to innovate and go above and beyond to care for our kids.”
Only a few days into the project, Educate Maine has already seen a positive response from educational stakeholders.
“It’s all so positive,” Johnston said. “It’s bringing out the best in people.”
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