UW News

June 23, 2020

UW’s K-8 reading program saw record numbers during COVID-19

Reading journal with names of books and time spent reading filled in

Over 3,200 students turned in reading journals like Sarai’s as part of Real Dawgs Read this spring.

When schools went to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, parents had to think fast about how to keep their kids engaged in learning.

Real Dawgs Read, a UW program that typically asks kids to read 30 minutes a day over 30 separate days during the summer, was there to help fill the gap. The program ran a special session between March 25 and June 5 and experienced its highest level of participation — with 3,240 readers taking part — in its 5-year existence. Households from Aberdeen to Seattle to Colfax submitted completed journals and got free Husky gear and a reading certificate.

Two girls, age 4 and 7, hold certificates and wear University of Washington hoodies

Seattle Public School students Scarlett and Annabelle show off their Real Dawgs Read certificates of completion and the UW hoodies they got in exchange for finishing the program.

Since 2015, Real Dawgs Read has helped K-8 students across the state experience the joy of reading. Students fill out a reading journal and send it to the UW Office of Trademarks & Licensing, which administers the program. In exchange, elementary and middle-school students get donated Husky merchandise. The program has partnered with Title I schools — where more than half the students receive free or reduced-price lunch — working with teachers and librarians to get the word out and distribute the reading journals.

When schools closed in early March due to COVID-19, a librarian at a Title I school in South Seattle reached out to Karin Mellskog in Trademarks & Licensing to ask whether anything might happen with Real Dawgs Read; he was worried about students. That echoed conversations she was already having with her colleague Kathy Hoggan, who founded the program.

“We thought: We wish there was something we could do for kids stuck at home in an environment that might not be very conducive to learning,” Mellskog said. “We wanted to give them some kind of inducement to read. That sparked the idea to offer Real Dawgs Read this spring.”

Since there wasn’t enough time to print the reading journals, they hurried to put up a website and offered the journal online for download. After they sent the website to the Real Dawgs Read mailing list, word spread. People reported seeing fliers on a bulletin board in a Bellevue YMCA and other locations outside the program’s normal school-based reach. Trademarks & Licensing also happened to have a wider range of merchandise available — so kids could choose between a hat, socks or a hoodie, which ended up being the biggest hit.

This resulted in record-breaking numbers for the program, which saw around 50 participants in 2015 and surpassed 3,000 this spring. Donors of this year’s merchandise included Zephyr Headwear and Strideline Socks.

Post-it note with writing

Parents sent in notes and emails of appreciation, sharing how Real Dawgs Read helped their families.

Several parents expressed their appreciation through emails and notes.

“It totally motivated my eight-year old son to read daily during this quarantine. He was insistent to read each night with me for the full 30 minutes — something that until then had been hard to get him to do,” one parent wrote in an email. “My son already made a new 30-day log for himself with a book as the new reward. We’ve made him a reader!”

Another parent wrote, “My son was reading for school already, but as soon as the opportunity to earn a hat came along, he was transformed into the avid reader. He read first thing in the morning every day and carefully recorded it in his log.”

Harold Baker, a father of two students in Seattle Public Schools, said his oldest daughter was reading a chapter book each day during the challenge.

“We have to slow her down because she will read us out of house and home!” he joked. “Her sister is learning to read, too, and has grown tremendously during our stay-at-home time.”

When Mellskog and Hoggan created Real Dawgs Read, they wanted to help kids develop a regular reading habit and a love of reading. The feedback from parents and teachers is reaffirming.

“Real Dawgs Read is a very unique program in higher education,” Mellskog said. “I’m very motivated and proud to manage a reading program that benefits specific, underserved communities all over the state of Washington, and grateful that we were able to open it up to a wider audience during the Governor’s stay-at-home orders this past spring.”

For more information, contact UW Trademarks & Licensing at realdawgs@uw.edu. Learn more about Real Dawgs Read here.