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Erma’s Books on the Bus kicks off at SeDoMoCha

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — SeDoMoCha School students can avoid boredom on the daily ride to and from home thanks to each bus now containing a library of books for various ages and abilities to read. The “Erma’s Books on the Bus” program, which also runs in Florida and is named for a registered READing (Reading Education Assistance Dog) and a therapy dog with Alliance Therapy Dogs, kicked off at the end of the day on Thursday, Sept. 12.

Erma, a German shorthaired pointer, first came to summer school with her handler April Taylor so students could practice reading aloud while the dog calmly laid at their feet to help the pupils become more comfortable and confident with their word skills. Erma is registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc. Founded by Intermountain Therapy Animals in Utah, READ handlers and their registered therapy dogs go through testing and continuing education in order to provide the free service to children in the community.

“Every week I come and read to the kindergarteners, she lies down on the rug,” Taylor, who also brings Erma to the Thompson Free Library across town, said.

Erma's Books on the Bus

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
GETTING ON BOARD WITH READING — SeDoMoCha Middle School fifth-grader Kaycie Bishop exits after dropping off a “library” or bin of books for the Erma’s Books on the Bus program — named for the German shorthaired pointer looking on who serves as a READing (Reading Education Assistance Dog) and therapy dog. Students will be able to choose from a selection of hundreds of titles on the way to and from school with Bishop and other students serving as “librarians” for their buses.

“The kids see her and say ‘Oh there’s Erma,’ so it’s a good tie-in and anything with a dog attracts attention,” she said.

Taylor, a resident of Lakeland, Florida who has summered in Sebec for a dozen years, said she learned many of the students in RSU 68 have long bus rides. She said some pupils residing in Monson likely have to sit for about 40 minutes one way and they need something to help avoid getting bored.

“If they had a book on the bus they would have something to do,” she said. “The point is to pick up a book because it’s entertaining and maybe the next time they will pick up a book instead of a device.”

“We love this community, my husband and I wanted to do everything we could to help this community,” Taylor added.

More than 800 program stickered books are being divided between the 17 buses in bins or “libraries” with a student serving as a librarian to make sure the books are returned and stowed away according to the driver’s wishes. The libraries will rotate between the fleet to provide hundreds of selections to read through the end of the school year.

Fifth-grader Kaycie Bishop said she met Erma and Taylor at summer school. Bishop said Taylor asked her if she would be interested in being an Erma’s Books on the Bus librarian and soon arrangements were made.

“The program is going to be amazing, I know,” Bishop, who like the other librarians was wearing a light blue T-shirt on the first day, said. “I love to read so I knew this was going to be a good program.”

She said her bus ride lasts for only about 10 minutes, but even then she still gets bored so having a book will help.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
CHECKING OUT SOME BOOKS — Erma’s Books on the Bus namesake and her handler April Taylor look through some of the 800 selections divided between the 17 buses transporting SeDoMoCha Schools students to give them reading material along the ride. Taylor, who summers in Sebec, has previously launched Erma’s Books on the Bus for the school district in her Florida hometown.

Taylor said she picked the titles “to make sure it’s something I would want to read, my son would want to read or a kid would want to read.” She said selections include Dr. Seuss, Clifford the Big Red Dog, titles by Robert McCloskey and other Maine authors and chapter books for older students such as “Charlotte’s Web.”

The reading material has been provided by Taylor, the SeDoMoCha School, Thompson Free Library and families.

Erma’s Books on the Bus is the only therapy dog driven program of its kind in the world, and Taylor said she would like to expand it to SAD 4 and SAD 41 of the Guilford and Milo areas respectively. “My hope is to expand this program beyond Piscataquis County and all through Maine and I want to expand to throughout all of Florida and nationwide to make life-long readers.”

Next month 9,000 books will be provided for the Polk County school system and its 220 buses near Taylor’s Florida home.

Children can also take part in Bedtime Stories with Erma at Facebook.com/readingtherapydog/ weeknights at 7 p.m. . Taylor said she has done 125 stories so far with “30,000 viewers from all over the world watching.”

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