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


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!


Guide to Understanding the Updated Reading Conventions for Textbook Community

The Textbook Community’s Reading Conventions are an essential starting point for the ways we lay out and navigate through all of the elements on a page in a book. It’s not possible to remember all these guidelines, so it's important that we have these "living" documents to reference while we record. We utilize volunteer feedback, observations of common errors, and member feedback to craft all of our guidelines documents. 


All Textbook Community Staff from every recording community gather together at least quarterly and if not more to review new suggestions for guidelines improvements and to discuss the common errors or areas in recordings that need better instruction. The main two documents every Textbook Community volunteer should consider are our Conventions WIKI, and the Figure Description Crib Sheets (FDCS). These main documents will not be updated more than once per year, and when they are, we like to follow a release either during the months of June, or January.This time, we released the updated Conventions WIKI and FDCS  on July 31st.   


There are several specific SUBJECT area guidelines to review as well. Some areas just demand a deeper dive. For example, we recently released the Writing/Style Guide Conventions, which were crafted by our wonderful staffer, Stacie Court, and volunteer, Elizabeth Hoffman. These guidelines will be essential to tackle the upcoming English Language texts that will be flooding our communities in the upcoming school year. Staff will likely enlist the help of other volunteers when needed to help with guidelines, so if you are interested, let us know and we'll be sure to reach out when we need the help.


We also currently have Computer and Code Guidelines (updates sent 6/13/19), Math Reading Guidelines (expected review and update on or before 10/1/19), Science Terms and Conventions, Foreign Language WIKI (released 7/31/19), and  Common Abbreviations (updates sent 6/13/19) documents. The revised Common Abbreviations document is arranged in alphabetical order and there are two columns, with one column showing the symbol’s name and the other column highlights how these symbols should be pronounced. All are or will become available on our Volunteer Portal under the Resources Tab. 


We welcome feedback and suggestions for our conventions in the Suggestions Form and as noted above, we'll add them to our annual review. It takes many minds and resources to pull together the guidelines and we hope they are helpful to all as they navigate the books that serve so many of our student learners! It’s only because of our great volunteers and staff that we are able to help students in their education. 
 


Why Are We Recording Books That Are Already Available on Audible?

Recently there have been some questions from volunteers about Learning Ally and why we create audiobooks that are also readily available on other platforms such as Audible.  

 

Indeed, many of our books have existing audiobook versions. The reason for needing a new recording is related to copyright law. As an educational non-profit, Learning Ally has the right to create audio versions of copyrighted material because of the population we serve, those who struggle to read. This includes those with dyslexia, visual impairment, physical disabilities that make accessing text difficult, or other barriers to reading. We operate under the Marrakesh Treaty, which is an international copyright agreement designed to help ensure access to printed material to those that would otherwise be denied.  

 

So we rely on talented volunteers like you to record our books even when other versions exist. One additional and unique feature that Learning Ally provides is that our final product for Literature books is an ebook with sentence-level highlighting that is synced with your voice-- what we call VOICEtext. Other text-to-speech engines can do this, but not with human-read audio.

 

Also, using Learning Ally's catalog means that students can access thousands of books, most often through their school, without having to purchase individual audio-only titles, the combined cost of which would render them inaccessible to most of our students. So you should all know that by volunteering, you are creating a tremendously impactful experience for students who struggle to read, potentially changing their educational outcomes (and lives) in the process!

Here's an example of the finished product from a recent popular title.  It was made into a movie as well - The Hate U Give:

 

So.....what is this Marrakesh Treaty?

The Marrakesh Treaty is international copyright law. The treaty allows Learning Ally to produce and record copyrighted audiobooks because we serve kids with learning differences. Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit, blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, etc. Once students are evaluated by qualified educators or medical professional, then they become eligible to use our services. 

                                                                                          

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Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit,
blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments.

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Studies estimate that 20% of students may be eligible for our services, so the work we do every day is very important and we want to reach more students and individuals who can benefit from our services.

As always, Learning Ally is immensely grateful for the great work done by our volunteers and staff! 

 

 


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.


Volunteer Spotlight: Seyun (Alice)

Meet our young volunteer, Seyun, who recently went on a trip to Buryatia, Russia, where she taught English to young kids. She and other high- schoolers coordinated the events for these children and they did a wonderful job. Read on to learn about our volunteer...

 

What do you do at Learning Ally?

I am a reader volunteer at the Literature Community in Learning Ally. I first started out as a listener at the Textbook Community, though, after my first training as a Textbook listener. Then gradually, I became a textbook reader, and then slowly transitioned into the literature community.

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How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally?

I embarked on my journey as a volunteer at Learning Ally from June 2018, so it has been a little over a year since I volunteered at Learning Ally.

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What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally? 

Currently, I am a rising senior in high school. During the first three years of high school, I have been participating in an Asia Pacific Forensics Competition, competing in Oral Interpretation and Solo Acting. I have always known about Learning Ally after my research online because I knew I wanted to assist those who struggle with education and words. By experiencing the power of words through my competitions, I longed to share the burden of those who grapple with words in their daily lives. In my prospective college, I want to study cognitive-linguistic science, psychology, and possibly education, but I did not start my Learning Ally volunteering until 2018 because I did not yet feel qualified to listen and read the books. However, after receiving two champions and one silver for Oral Interpretation and one champion for Solo Acting, I finally felt ready, and thus began my volunteer work at Learning Ally. In addition, meeting Hannah, my dyslexic friend, in January of 2018 influenced me to look into Learning Ally more and start volunteering.

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What's something people at LA don't know about you?

I am comparably a newcomer at Learning Ally, so there are various things I could uncover about myself.  One thing most people at Learning Ally do not know about me is that I am Korean-living in China, seventeen, and am left-handed (that looks like more than one, but they are all descriptions to the "Korean," so technically, it is one!).

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What do you like most about volunteering at LA?

Working at Learning Ally has taught me so much: time management, communication, passion, etc. The one thing I absolutely LOVE about Learning Ally is its volunteers. Although I have not been volunteering for a long time, every single person I communicated with throughout my one-year adventure has been helpful, encouraging, and polite. By knowing that I am volunteering with people who share the same passion of education for those who might be excluded in our everyday lives, I am able to both mature as a reader and a person. Whenever I was faced with a problem, I had people to talk to, who never failed to provide me with a solution or suggestion. Whenever I felt tired of reading the same line for the one-thousandth time, the emails from the volunteers reminded me of the smiles I will be able to bring to the students' faces, thereby, motivating me to do better. Without these volunteers, I would not have made it thus far, and I am delighted to be part of the community, and possibly that helper for other volunteers in the future.

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Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?

  1. Communication is key! Do not stay silent. If you know you cannot make it to that deadline, communicate that information with your volunteers. They are extremely understanding and flexible in their schedule.
  2. Time management! Sometimes, I left my readings at the last moment, thinking that I could finish it quickly. Do not do that (: Schedule out your time wisely so that you can provide the best audiobooks for those listening.
  3. Enjoy and remember that there are a great number of people who are grateful to you and your work! Thank you, 谢谢, 감사합니다, спасибо, danke schön, gratias tibi!

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What is your favorite audiobook/ book if you have any?

This is a difficult question; I have so many favorite books! My three absolute favorites are Tuesdays With Morrie- Mitch Albom, The Neverending Story-Michael Ende, and The Shack-William P. Young.

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What do you do during your free time?

Read, watch movies, go to the gym. Books and movies for the soul + mind, and gym for the body. I adore food, so I like to think that by working out, I can excuse myself for my eating. 

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What is your favorite movie or TV series? 

My favorite movie is Inception directed by Christopher Nolan. The whole concept of the mind and dreams inside a dream completely stunned me when I first watched it in freshman year, with my sister. I have watched the movie seven times now and it infallibly shocks me every time.

 

 

 


Staff Spotlight: Christina Trejos

What do you do at Learning Ally?

Hi, my name is Christina Trejos and I am on the Production team.  My job responsibilities have me working closely with both the Literature and Instructional Text Communities as well as the Education Solutions Department.  I work on title review and selection to determine which titles should get selected for recording, book acquisition and book record processing which includes how we will be recording the title (Classic audio or Voicetext format). 

 

Furthermore, I am the liaison with our conversion vendor in India, who processes our XML files for all VOICEtext projects. In addition, I  support the priority management process for VOICEtext projects in the Literature Community and Classic Audio projects in the Textbook community.

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?

I have been with Learning Ally, formerly known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic for 18 years.  I started out as a part-time employee working second shift hours to quickly becoming a full-time employee. During those years, my job roles have evolved as our organization shifted from audiobooks on tapes and CDs to digital downloads.  

What made you want to work at LA?

At the time that I started working for LA, I was only looking for a part-time job since I had been at home with my youngest son for the past 3 years.  I quickly became excited about the mission, our members and all of the people that I was able to work with so I looked for a full-time position. I am happy to say that I have enjoyed working at LA for the past 18 years.

What's something most people at LA don't know about you?

My family and I have spent many years volunteering for animal rescues fostering over 40 dogs until they found their forever home.  It is very hard to work with animals and not want to take them all home with you. I, myself, have three dogs and two of them were foster failures (failure in the best way possible since they immediately became part of the family).

​​​​​​​

What do you like most about working at LA?

I love our mission and the members that we serve.  There is no better feeling than being a part of a team that is able to produce an audiobook for students/members to read with their friends or classmates.  

​​​​​​​

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

The most challenging part of my job is not always being able to produce every member’s request for a book when they need it. I am excited for the day when there are enough volunteers to serve all our members.

​​​​​​​

What do you do during your free time?

In the little bit of free time that I have, I enjoy spending time with my family.  We enjoy traveling to the Smoky Mountains in the summer. I also enjoy going to the beach, local wineries and country music concerts.


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.


Staff Spotlight: Abigail Shaw

Abigail Shaw

What do you do at Learning Ally?

My name is Abigail, and I’m part of the production staff (specifically literature) at LA. My job responsibilities include a mix of things: I oversee the QA process of our already existing titles--looking for ways to make the books we already have recorded even better, or if they need to be re-recorded--, interfacing with volunteers in the process of narrating and listening to literature titles, and creating conventions and processes surrounding graphic novel image descriptions for blind/visually impaired students.

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?

It's been just over three years that I’ve worked with the organization, splitting my time between production of our audiobooks, as well as coordinating our virtual mentoring program for visually impaired/blind college students in our College Success Program. Actually, if you include the fall semester I worked part-time as a mentor, October will be four years with the organization.

Why did you choose to work at Learning Ally?

Initially, I was just interested in giving back as a mentor for the College Success Program. Opportunities eventually opened up for me to coordinate the mentoring program, as well as to lend my skills with audio production. My bachelors is in music and audio recording, and because of a lot of experience with our College Success Program students, I am now pursuing my masters in social work.

What's something most people at Learning Ally don't know about you?

In March of 2012, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with a group of friends and my former guide dog, Alexa. If given the time and money, I would consider doing a through hike.

Any Hobbies?

In my free time, I occasionally pick out popular songs or practice classical music on my upright piano, affectionately dubbed Barb, and I’m a long-distance runner. Currently, I am training for a half marathon in September. 

What do you like most about working at Learning Ally?

Our mission, the volunteers, and my colleagues. Getting to see how all of our work impacts students is incredibly rewarding.

What is your favorite audiobook/book, if you have any?

It's always hard to pick just one! For reading, via braille or synthetic speech, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” by Aimee Bender, “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte, and a commercially produced audiobook I really enjoy is the “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

What is your favorite movie or TV series?

Gilmore Girls. The dialogue and cultural references are priceless.

Kit: my preferred method of transportation in NYC