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“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

Reading in the Time of COVID

 

Image: young girl trapped in a birdcage


 

If you’re like me, you’ve spent some of the past few months mourning the loss of various activities and freedoms thanks to the international COVID-19 emergency.  It’s been a rough time for everyone, and no one has been untouched by it.  We’re all feeling a little off-kilter, topsy-turvy, crowded and cramped, and even just plain crabby.


 

 Image: blue crab alone and cornered in the bottom of a basket






 

But then, here comes that Pollyanna of poetry, Emily Dickinson:


 

There is no frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away,

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry--

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll--

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears a Human soul.




 

So, my question:  where is your reading taking you this summer?  And what do you think of it?   We’d like you to send us your own (BRIEF) book reviews--let us know what you’ve been reading, what you recommend, what you don’t.  It’s a great way to learn about new reading opportunities and learn from each other’s experiences, too.


 

Please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:

  • Title

  • Author

  • BRIEF review

  • Your name


 

All reviews received by July 20th will be considered for inclusion in the following week’s blog post (basically, we’ll print them all but reserve the right to edit to keep them appropriate for our audience).  Any book you've read/started to read since locking down is eligible for inclusion.  We will also print multiple reviews of the same book if received.



 

To get you started, here are a couple of sample book reviews:



 

Funny Girl: A Novel                           Nick Hornby

 

I love Nick Hornby’s writing! (in case you’re not familiar with him, among many others he also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy)  In this book, Barbara leaves her working-class home in Blackpool, England, to follow her dream of becoming Britain’s version of Lucille Ball.  The writing is superb and the story is great, combining Hornby’s tongue-in-cheek comic sense with a nostalgic view of 1960s TV.  I kept David awake with my giggling while reading this wonderful little book.




 

Billy Budd                      Herman Melville

 

This was the shortest book I was assigned to read in high school...and the only assigned reading I did not finish.  I have since read Moby Dick and loved it, so I determined to give Billy another try  this summer.  Guess what?  I’m still not finishing it.  I find it dreary and deadly boring.  I cannot stay awake.  I did some research and discovered that even Melville himself got bored with it and never completed the book.  If he didn’t feel the need to finish it, neither do I.  Goodbye, Billy Budd.



 

Happy Reading!



 

Image: old-fashioned clipper ship with body of ship replaced by an open book, floating through a dreamy, cloudy sky


Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal: An Overview

 

man sitting at computer writing down information on a piece of paper

 

You’re reading along, either as a Narrator/Reader or a Listener/Checker, and suddenly you run into something you’re not sure about, something that doesn’t seem to be covered in your Project Guidelines.  It’s 10:00 Saturday night and you’re pretty sure all the staff are off-duty. What should you do?

 

  1. Write a long rant in the Hangout or Google Group, complaining about the ridiculous state of education in our country.

  2. Just make a guess; you’re pretty smart, anyway.

  3. Check out the Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal.

  4. Quit and never respond to any communications from staff ever again.


 

Well, you probably ARE pretty smart...but if you are, you will choose C.  The Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal can be your best friend in tricky situations.  So, let’s take a look at it together; we’ll give a brief overview of each section. NOTE: you do not need to be a member of any specific community to explore that community’s links.  You never know what useful information you’ll find!



 

Image of Textbook Community set of links     Stack of college textbooks, ranging from Cellular Biology and Sociology to a Latin textbook



 

The Textbook Community section includes a variety of very useful documents, ranging from conventions and helpful guides to forms:


 

  • Computer and Code Guidelines:  directions for computer-related items like reading code, how to announce various symbols within code, etc.

 

 

  • Famous Names and Places:  great tips on how to research the pronunciations of famous names and places; this document includes all kinds of helpful links to sites specific to occupations and locations around the world.

 

 

  • Foreign Language Wiki:  TWO SECTIONS: (1) conventions for the Foreign Language Community;  and (2) resources for pronunciations of words in many different foreign languages, ranging from Amharic and Punjabi to Lithuanian and Lang Belta, as well as a section on science terminology (because science is a language of its own).

 

  • Law Links: hints for learning how to say all those convoluted abbreviations used in legalese.

 

  • Math Reading Guidelines: does your history book suddenly, bizarrely, have a math equation in it?  Try this document to learn how to read that unholy aberration.

 

  • Science Terms and Conventions: Did the authors of the writing style guide you’re reading use examples from a science text?  Go to this document for help with that situation.

 

 

  • Checking Instructions: examples of good versus bad wave forms and instructions for leaving kind yet informative notes to Narrators/Readers.

 

 

 




 

Image of Lit Community list of links      Bookcases packed full of literature books, titles not legible


 

The Literature Community also has some useful links:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






 

Image of Software and Apps list of links         Image of various Google links on a computer screen

 

Software & Apps:  just what you think it would be

 

 

  • webEB Reference Guide: place to go to access directions and links for using our new web-based software: no more worry about what type of computer you use, or all the files building up on your device!

 

 

  • EasyBooks (PC):  instructions for EasyBooks for PC; includes link to latest version

 

 

 





 

Explorer in a pith helmet, hiding in a bush as he looks into the distance through a set of binoculars     Image of the General section's links

 

General: a catch-all for some items that didn’t fit in the other categories:


 

 

 

  • Try out LAABS!:  directions for using the Learning Ally Audio Book Solution--check out the user experience on the books you’ve worked on

 

 

 

  • Hangouts: document with links to various Hangouts for meeting other volunteers and staff




 

poster reads               Image of Volunteer Nation Live! Events section start

 

Volunteer Nation Live! Events:  links to the all the VNL webinars





 

Image of happy female weight trainer             Image of Training Resources section links

 

Training Resources:  Links to a variety of Mini-Lesson, Videos, and Documents; in the top paragraph there is a link to the Virtual Training Center





 

So, as you can see: even when staff are off-duty, you’re never far from a source of help!  Dive into this tab full of great resources, and see what you find.


 

Archimedes next to his bathtub, shouting


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.