June 24, 2018
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Coastal island reading program expands into Washington County

By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — Six years ago Island Readers & Writers began inspiring a passion for learning through reading among children living on Maine’s coastal islands.

The group is now expanding the program to include five mainland “inland islands” in Washington County — Jonesport, Machiasport, Lubec, Milbridge and Machias.

“We’ve been working with school librarians in these communities,” said Jan Coates, who heads up the Readers & Writers organization. “When we come into a school, we pay for everything, including the books that are given to the children involved. It’s something they treasure, as well as the time they are able to spend with the authors that we bring in.”

Coates said the grant-funded onshore program will be headed by Michelle Finn, who with her husband, Doug, have been the only two teachers on Frenchboro, teaching kindergarten through eighth grade and also hosting the Readers & Writers program there.

Having grown up in the Washington County community of South Addison, Finn is well aware of the challenges facing students in the region.

“I have no memory of authors or illustrators coming into my school in Down East Maine,” she said. “I think the kids in Washington County deserve a little enrichment. They deserve a little extra, things to be really excited about. And I’m passionate about bringing that to them.”

Finn left Washington County for college at the University of Maine at Orono, where she graduated with honors. Ever since, she’s taught everything from English to nature appreciation and survival skills to students of all ages at schools as near as Massachusetts and as distant as Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island, 35 miles from Russia.

“My heart and soul are Down East Maine,” she said. “I am thrilled to be working with this program.”

Finn is now involved in curriculum development, creating online resources and continuing outreach within Washington County.

Plans are underway for Cynthia Lord, the Newbery award-winning author of “Rules” and “Touch Blue” fame to visit at least one of these inland program sites.

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