Winter in Maine is known for its ample snow and biting cold, and a plethora of outdoor activities. Yet the limited daylight hours and erratic weather also often force residents inside their homes, and, for those fortunate enough, near their woodstoves and fireplaces. The pace of life seems to slow, the sounds of nature seem to soften and the collective mood becomes more reserved. Winter is a time to ponder, reflect and pause, a sentiment William Cullen Bryant noted in “A Winter Piece”:

“But Winter has yet brighter scenes – he boasts

“Splendors beyond what gorgeous Summer knows;

“Or Autumn with his many fruits, and woods

“All flushed with many hues. Come when the rains

“Have glazed the snow and clothed the trees with ice,

“While the slant of sun of February pours

“Into the bowers a flood of light …”

Winter ought to be the perfect time to finish reading a book, to catch up on correspondence and to discover new authors and ideas for the coming year. However, ideals and reality often contrast.

The truth is that many of our neighbors in Maine and across the nation have difficulty with reading throughout their childhoods, school years, careers and adult lives. As noted in the 2008 Report from the National Commission on Adult Literacy, there was and is a persistent gap between adult skills (including illiteracy and limited literacy) and workforce needs. That report called for increased access to adult education programs from a baseline of 3 million people in 2008 to 20 million people by 2020, which appears to have been met.

Yet the 2018 Educate Maine Symposium estimated that the adult education programs in our state are reaching only 5 percent to 10 percent of those who need their services. Formal adult education programs are strong, and volunteer organizations such as Literacy Volunteers of Bangor and Learning Works in southern Maine continue to make impressive efforts on behalf of our communities. Thus it seems that significant opportunity is there for those who wish to better themselves and augment their skills, but the key will be continuing to remove barriers to access and raise awareness via peer mentors, carpooling efforts, flexible tutoring hours, and extending program reach through technology and multimedia and literacy-positive events like the Piscataquis Adult Education Cooperative’s 2019 Reading Challenge.

While the aforementioned programs and initiatives are all striving to serve our state’s adults, at root, illiteracy and limited literacy are problems that begin in childhood. As a result, Maine’s public schools have been working hard to promote literacy through Response to Intervention programs in regular classes and to celebrate literacy via partnerships with outside organizations such as Bikes for Books and summer reading with local libraries.

February’s #ReadtoME Challenge has come and gone, and Read Across America Day was celebrated March 2. The larger task is to maintain enthusiasm for the written word throughout the year and in every season. If we do believe that education is the path to self-betterment and community betterment, then we must encourage reading broadly and deeply throughout child development and life.

Whether it is reading to your newborn or toddler every day, reading with your elementary schooler every night before bed, reading alongside your middle schooler in the evenings and on weekends or discussing your reading with your high schooler at the dinner table, literacy is a lifelong pursuit predicated upon positive modeling and engagement.

We are never done growing as readers and thinkers, and we all must remember to engage positively with young people as they are learning to read, and to support those children and adults who struggle with reading. Let us celebrate this act of learning that is so vital to the human condition, our societal fabric and our continued economic growth.

 

Joseph Hennessey teaches English at Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford and is 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year.

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