2 states where COVID relief funds are igniting a love of reading

'We want to instill a love of reading in lots of different ways,' Delaware education official says
By: | July 20, 2021

Most educators consider literacy the foundation of all learning, and some states are using ESSER Covid relief funds to ensure every student can read a digital book.

The Delaware Department of Education will use federal Education Stabilization Funds (a blanket term for the three Covid relief packages) to steer a bit outside its lane, says Monica Gant, the associate secretary for Academic Support.

“The Department of Education typically does not provide direct resources to students,” Gant says. “We saw ESSER as a unique opportunity to provide access to digital e-books to all public school students, in all grade levels, through their school libraries and high-quality instructional materials.”

The program is called the Delaware Accelerate Learning digital book collection. Students, who will also be able to check titles out through Delaware’s public libraries, will have access to e-books, audiobooks and digital graphic novels.

The entire program, which is designed to support the equity and literacy work underway in individual districts, is anchored by OverDrive Education’s Sora platform, Gant says.

The platform allows students to download the books to any device and read them offline. The Department of Education will further support the program with professional development in reading science and literacy. This will include a focus on early literacy for pre-service teachers in college education programs, Gant says.

The diverse collection includes books that are culturally relevant to students of all backgrounds and ethnicities, she says.

“We’re not replacing hardcopy books,” Gant says. “We want to instill a love of reading in lots of different ways.”

A platform such as Sora aligns with multiple allowable uses of COVID relief funds, including student-teacher relationships, summer enrichment, literacy, equity and hardware and software effectiveness, says Angela Arnold, general manager of OverDrive.

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“Kids learned during COVID, and they may have been practical skills, such as learning to care for younger siblings,” Arnold says. “What we’re challenged with now is making sure kids can apply these new skills to the educational arena.”

Positive literacy

Students in Nevada have read 6 million books, tallying 60 million minutes of reading through the state’s year-old free digital books program.

ESSER funds now drive READ Nevada, which is backed up by the state’s Connecting Kids initiative that brought internet access in the pandemic to the approximately 120,000 students who lacked connections.

The platform, which is provided by MyON, features a diverse library with titles that are relevant to—and therefore more likely to engage—students from all backgrounds. MyON also provides books in multiple languages, says Jonathan Moore, the Nevada Department of Education’s deputy superintendent of student achievement.

“Students can spend much of their academic careers without reading any literature that reflects themselves in a positive light,” Moore says. “What we typically see from students who may have a disdain for reading is that often they are given literature that they can’t identify with or that they don’t find exciting.”

The initiative also includes professional development to support teachers in integrating digital books into their curriculum. The state is now beginning to assess READ Nevada’s impact on student achievement, Moore says.

“Our educators, through professional development, will be able to ensure students are reading texts that are appropriate for development and that ignite further desire for reading,” Moore says.