Select the search type
  • Site
  • Web
Search

 

 

Volunteer Nation Blog

rss

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill


Stacie Court
Stacie Court
Stacie Court's Blog

Getting to Know You

 

 

There are many different ways to get to know someone.  In-person communication works best in most cases, but isn’t always possible.  

 

Another good way is through today’s many forums that imitate the old penpal and note-passing experiences: our online spaces that allow us to communicate immediately with people faraway.  These places include social media like FaceBook, Instagram, and others. They also include private and public chats, like those found in Google Hangouts.

 

Learning Ally uses Google Hangouts to offer a number of options for getting to know staff and other volunteers.  Besides your STAFF and project-specific Hangouts, we’ve created a number of Hangouts around specific topics (Foreign Languages, TOC Pre-Production, etc.) as well as locality-based Hangouts for volunteers living in the same general area.  

 

The links to all of these Hangouts can be found at the Volunteer Portal; follow this pathway to find the document with all the links:


 

Volunteer Portal/Resources/General/Hangouts

 



 

Or click on this link:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JsS-XigskhVKSGI0NAV6zY58QNBF_VzjRIsVqI0jHYk/edit


 

You are welcome to join any of those Hangouts, and you don’t have to live in that area to join a locality-specific Hangout. If you’ll be traveling to Southern California, for example, and would like to try to meet up with staff and volunteers there, join the SoCal Volunteers Hangout and post a message about your upcoming trip.


 



 

If you’d like to try to get to know other volunteers in your area and don’t see a link for it, contact Stacie Court (sCourt@LearningAlly.org, or through your STAFF Hangout) and she’ll look into creating one for you.

 

Over the past few years several groups of volunteers have gotten together for meals and other events.  It just takes one person to get the ball rolling--post in your Hangout and see what happens!

 

 

Images: (left) SoCal volunteers plus Don Sheetz get together for a casual lunch;

(right)  Texas current and alumni volunteers get together for coffee



 

 

Image: Athens volunteers and staff meet for lunch at a local restaurant


New Year's Greetings




 

No matter our background, most of us will very soon be celebrating New Year’s Day, even if it’s just the day we stop writing “2019” on checks (checks? how old-fashioned!).  Have you ever wondered how January 1st became recognized as New Year’s Day throughout most of the modern world?



 

Image: Babylonian New Year’s festival of Akitu


 

According to multiple sources, the earliest recorded New Year’s celebration was a long time ago in Mesopotamia (c. 2000 BC).  Then, the new year was recognized as beginning with the vernal equinox (mid-March for us today). Other cultures, such as the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians, celebrated the new year at the autumnal equinox (our mid-September).




 

Image: Roman Colosseum


 

The Romans originally celebrated New Year's on March 1st of their ten-month, 304-day calendar (side note: the reason our last four months are named “SEPTember”, “OCTober”, “NOVember”, and “DECember” is because they were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year).  Somewhere around 700 BCE two new months, January and February, were added, but New Year’s was still celebrated on March 1st.


 

Around 153 BCE the Roman civil year began on January 1st, so many people started celebrating New Year’s on January 1st at that point.  However, it was not an official change and many people continued celebrating New Year’s in March.



 

           

Image: Julius Caesar                                    Image: Janus, God of Gates


 

The Julian Calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, along with a decree that New Year’s would be celebrated on January 1st, to coincide with the civil year and the celebration of Janus, the god of gates.  So, January 1st was THE date...for a while, anyway…





 

In 567 CE the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the date for New Year’s.  Until the institution of the Gregorian Calendar by the Council of Nicaea in 1582, New Year’s was celebrated on a number of days throughout medieval Europe, often coinciding with major Christian feasts, ranging from December 25th (Birth of Christ) to March 25th (Feast of the Annunciation).


 

Images: front page of Gregorian Calendar; Pope Gregory XIII

 

HOWEVER...Pope Gregory’s calendar still didn’t unify Europe under one New Year’s celebration.  For example, the British (and their colonies) did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752.  Today, most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, and observes January 1st as the beginning of the New Year.


 

Modern countries that do not use the Gregorian calendar include Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, and Nepal.  Countries that use their own plus the Gregorian calendar include Bangladesh, India, and Israel. Countries that use modified versions of the Gregorian calendar include Taiwan, Thailand, North Korea, and Japan.  China uses the Gregorian calendar for civil record-keeping but use the traditional Chinese calendar for the dates of festivals.



 

    

    Image: polar bear plunge

 

 

All cultures that observe New Year’s have developed traditions around the celebrations.  Some of these traditions include making resolutions for the New Year; dressing up for parties on New Year’s Eve, with a special toast and noisemakers at midnight; polar bear plunges into frigid water; eating special foods for luck such as black-eyed peas, lentils, soba noodles, or grapes; and singing “Auld Lang Syne” around a bonfire.  Here in the U.S., it’s often a time to gather with friends and family to watch a bowl game on tv (or, if you plan ahead, attend one live).




 

Image: volunteer recording an audiobook for Learning Ally

 

Anyway you celebrate it, the New Year is always felt to be a time for new beginnings and fresh starts, a time for casting off the old and ringing in the new.  What new and exciting things will you do this year? Maybe...help with more books for Learning Ally? Go through Reader Training and become a Reader/Narrator? Become a mentor to new volunteers?  Maybe you’ll get some of your friends involved, and start your own local Learning Ally group? The sky’s the limit!  

 

It’s going to be a wonderful year!  Happy 2020, everyone!


 

Image:  Eleanor Roosevelt with quotation, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

 


Help!

 

Album cover for The Beatles: Help!


 

Help!  I need somebody,

Help! Not just anybody,

Help, you know I need someone,

Help!...

Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, oh!


 

Hi, folks.  We need your help.

 

Sometimes we’re looking for someone with a specific skill set (ex. Classical Latin experience; fundraising background; technical development skills; etc.).  The easiest way for us to find these folks is through the entries in the Volunteer Portal. By keeping your personal information section up-to-date, you save us time and help us find you when we need you.

To update your information:

 

  1.  Go to the Volunteer Portal:  https://volunteers.learningally.org/


 




 

  1.  Click on Log Hours and log in:

 

 



 

  1.  Click on the My Profile Tab:

 



 

  1.  Scroll down and check off boxes that apply to you, and update any outdated information:

 


 

  1.  Continue scrolling and checking as applicable, click SAVE in each section:

 



 

  1.  Once you’ve checked and saved everything you’re interested in, scroll to the bottom and click Exit:

 



 

It’s as easy as pumpkin pie!  Thank you for keeping your information up-to-date.  Correct information improves our efficiency and helps us better serve the students we’re trying to help.


 

Pumpkin pie, complete with a dollop of whipped cream in the middle and with an edging of pie-dough autumn leaves


WOW! What Great Staff!

 

  Big gold star, with smaller gold stars embedded in it


 

WOW!  Learning Ally staff members are so great!  What is it that makes us so terrific?


 

Maybe it’s our WOWs: Ways of Working.  A set of guidelines for positive action, we refer to them and incorporate them into all our personal and organizational goals.  By following the WOWs, we all work together to make Learning Ally a great place to work and volunteer.


 

Maybe you’d like to consider adding some or all of our WOWs to your own toolbox?  Here they are for you to ponder:


 

a. Focus on customer needs as we embrace continuous change.

b. Project ahead to find and deliver on the changes that need to be made.

c. Find the meaning in the data.

d. Make fact-based decisions and remain aligned with those decisions until a new case is made and a new decision is reached.

e. Ask how we can do it better, consistently and often.

f. Display bravery and be comfortable standing up and taking an unpopular view on issues.

g. Assume positive intent.

h. Communicate truthfully, candidly, and constructively.

i. Demonstrate concern for all functions and see the organization as one.

j. Acknowledge and celebrate team efforts and wins.

k. Address issues with each other directly before taking them up with others.

l. Set clear expectations and define everyone’s role (ownership) for achievement.

m. Ensure the right people are in the room when making decisions.

n. Regularly ask for and give feedback.

o. Openly acknowledge mistakes, seek solutions, and not blame.



 

Some of these WOWs seem so obvious, but others maybe not so much depending on your personal background and the experiences you’ve had.  Confession time: I grew up in a very negative household. A few years ago, when a member of our Senior Leadership Team told me, “Assume positive intent”, it hit me like a thunderbolt.  I was stunned. At that moment, I realized all my life I had assumed negative intent, and it had colored so many of my experiences as an adult. I have been grateful to that person ever since then for taking the time to tell me that, and am pleased to see it as a part of our WOWs.  Just that one WOW has had such an impact on me personally; imagine how incorporating ALL of them can create positive, dynamic change in all of us?


 

Pick a WOW and try it on for size.  I bet you’ll like it.


Falling in Love

 

Maria Luna and other teachers crowd together, celebrating with big smiles and big jazz hands


 

Have you ever fallen in love? As staff member Terrie Noland says, “So many feelings pop up when you fall in love!  You want to spend time together...you get those butterflies in your stomach.”

 

Bilingual Literacy and Dyslexia Interventionist Maria Luna (above, with fellow staff members at Central Elementary in Lewisville, Texas) writes to us:

 

I have fallen in love with Learning Ally!!  I have seen it change my students’ reading lives!  They love being able to choose their own books (with a few suggestions from me ), and they also love being able to have book discussion with their peers!  I just have so many good things to say about it!

 

Terrie adds, “As school is kicking off around the country, we have teachers and students that can relate to those feelings of falling in love to their experience with Learning Ally.  They don’t want to be without us, they want to spend time with us and they quite possibly get butterflies in their stomach when reading so many great...titles.”



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased (from zero last week) to 16,545!

 

  • Pages read by school readers has climbed to 3,719,966!



 

Happy Reading, everyone!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.


It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

 

Sad brother and sister face towering shelves of school supplies while father gleefully glides through the store as he pushes the cart


 

Remember that old Staple’s commercial, with the father gleefully purchasing back-to-school supplies to the soundtrack of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”?  In the commercial, the children appear quite despondent, dismayed by the imminent arrival of the impending school year.  

 

We adults all laughed at this commercial (for a bit of nostalgia, click here to view it again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD1PffNbZls), but for many families back-to-school really is a terribly stressful time.  For about 20% of students, school is pure torture, and it makes family life difficult as well.  For those students who use Learning Ally, however, school can be more like it was for me: an exciting day filled with learning and fun.  Thanks to the work of our many volunteers, these children’s sadness can be turned to joyful expectation! Instead of automatically expecting humiliation and failure, they can anticipate another year of personal growth and success in school.


 

Excited and enthused young boy eagerly raises his hand in class.

 

As we move into the new school year (yes, schools in the South have started already!), here at Learning Ally we reset all our counters that measure the schools’ and students’ activity over the year.  So, here’s where we are:

 

Back to School Countdown counter image: zero days, zero hours, zero minutes, zero seconds

 

2,965,350 books on student bookshelves were set back to zero 

 

697,280 students had their reading data set back to zero

 

17,583 schools had their reading data set back to zero

 

41,129 new school year emails sent out on August 1st, with an additional 82,258 going out in the days to come



 

How do you want students to feel on the first day of school?  Here are some of the answers staff came up with at a Back-to-School Pep Rally last week:

 

Pencil-shaped word cloud with words like joyful, excited, hopeful, curious, gritty, heroic, prepared.



 

And it’s all possible--VERY possible--because of all the hard work staff and volunteers (YOU!) put into helping these families.  Thank you!

 

Happy Reading!


Students Love Us!

 

     Abigail Shaw wears a bright yellow dress and a big smile; her guide dog, Kit, gazes quizzically at the camera

 

Abigail Shaw, staff member with Learning Ally’s College Success Program, with her guide dog, Kit


 

Students love Learning Ally!  Here’s a message from just one member of our ever-growing fan club:

 

I’m looking forward to this semester because for once I was actually able to get my textbook list ahead of time and found most of the books on Learning Ally, so there’s one less thing I have to worry about...I will enjoy my classes and they seem interesting so I’m looking forward to that.


 

College Success Program student

Sophomore from Long Island





 

 

Another big fan is Sadie Regardie.  A student in the Fairfax County Public Schools, Sadie read A LOT this summer, participating in our Summer Reading Together contest.  Sadie not only read at home--she even took her books on vacation! How many kids want to read on vacation? Sadie entered our social media part of the contest as well, and her entry shows how audiobooks can not only build enthusiasm for reading but also expose students to concepts and vocabulary.  Sadie says about Learning Ally, “...it has helped me persevere in reading. Makes the book make sense and makes reading more fun.” Click here to watch Sadie’s video entry:

https://spark.adobe.com/video/yjkTu48FpM4Sy


 

Sadie’s mother, Jenn Regardie, is a key influencer for Learning Ally in their school district, and will be a panelist for one of our upcoming edWebinars.  For more information about this educational opportunity, click here:

https://home.edweb.net/webinar/readers20190814/





 


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 212,034

 

  • We had 47,285 reading at frequency*

 

  • Pages read by school readers increased by 63% over this time last year!



 

Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.


Pass It On

 

Bryanna Marbury has dark skin, black hair, brown eyes, and wears glasses and a big, radiant smile!



 

Bryanna Marbury is a success, and Learning Ally volunteers made the difference for her.  Watch this video and hear what her mother, Barbara, has to say about Learning Ally’s impact on the community.

 

https://youtu.be/7477Cjy_4OI


 

To hear what Bryanna herself has to say, click here:  https://youtu.be/-t9vT54-Ufo

 

Since these videos were made, Bryanna has gone on to a career in early education, working with children through Grade 5.  Because you made a difference, Bryanna is making a difference!



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 211,289

 

  • We had 47,029 reading at frequency*

 

  • Pages read by school readers increased by 64% over this time last year!



 

Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.


We love BUGS!

 

Ad for Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School, including images of happy children involved in a variety of science-based activities


 

This past year Learning Ally Education Solutions GM Tim Wilson approved a special project where we provided a license to the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (affectionately known as BUGS) in return for the opportunity to study their experience with Learning Ally solutions.  It was a truly fruitful year for the students and teachers, and yielded results even we did not expect.


 

During their introduction to Learning Ally in November, teachers were thrilled by the variety and quality of our solutions, with teacher Betsy McGowan, the school’s reading specialist, exclaiming, “It looks like Christmas came early this year!”  By January all of Betsy’s students with reading deficits were registered with our program.

 

Betsy McGowan has shoulder-length light brown hair, brown eyes, and a big smile.


 

BUG’s eighth-graders were all assigned a dystopian novel, one which was available through our audiobook solution.  More than a few students told Betsy that this was the first time they had read an entire book--Learning Ally made it possible for them.


 

Cover of Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, including image of young biracial Trevor with his Xhosa mother in the foreground.

 

The next assigned book, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, was in our queue but unavailable when assigned.  Encouraged by their success with their first book, many of the students were inspired to work really hard and read the print version!  It took longer and they had to work much, much harder to keep up, but they liked the feeling of understanding and participating in the class discussions.


 

Cover art for George Orwell's Animal Farm: white cover with stylized pink pig


 

The final book for the school year was George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm, already available through Learning Ally.  One student told Betsy she had been able to learn so much more vocabulary using Learning Ally’s audiobook solution.


 

A few weeks ago we received a surprise at our Princeton office:  a huge card thanking the Learning Ally team (that includes YOU, volunteers!).  Each student signed their name and gave us the number of pages they read, all of them (and their teachers) so proud of their progress.


 

Large black card (science fair display size) with colorful message thanking Learning Ally and smaller messages from students



 

This kind of success is possible because of all the great people we have working on our solutions.  This is just one example of how our volunteers make a difference in people’s lives every day--a difference that supports them through a lifetime of learning.  Thank you all for the gifts of your time, talent, and treasure. Our friends at BUGS are just one small group that is grateful every day for your presence in their lives.



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 211,197

 

  • We had 46,753 reading at frequency*



 

Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.


Summer Reading Together Explosion

 

Summer Reading Together logo: stylized sun wearing dark sunglasses in blue circle with words Summer Reading Together, Learning Ally


 

Learning Ally’s Summer Reading Together program is already helping thousands of students avoid summer slide!  Just since June 1st:

 

  • More than 3,000 students reading

  • More than 500,000 pages read

  • More than 500,000 minutes read



 

Students are having a great time exploring fun lit and even LEARNING over the summer.  Click here to watch the video recommendation posted by one of our enthusiastic participants:

https://www.instagram.com/p/By7-zyYhSdQ/


 

Young boy with crewcut and dark-framed glasses smiles as he holds up his tablet with the book Private Pilot Maneuvers displayed



 

Look for more exciting news from our students as the summer goes on!  To learn more about the program (and share the information with teachers and families who may want to join in the fun), click on this link:

https://learningally.org/Summer-Reading-Together


 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 209,389

 

  • We’ve had over 141 million pages read--an increase of 65% over last year for school readers!

 

  • We had 46,058 reading at frequency*



 

Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.