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Volunteer Nation Blog

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


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).

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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.  

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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.

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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


From the Training Center - It's July!

Happy summer volunteers!

July begins a new fiscal year at Learning Ally, so it's the time when we look back at our accomplishments of the past year and forward to our goals for the next. This has been a year of great successes for Learning Ally! Our students are reading pages at record numbers, we’ve exceeded book production for the first year since going to a virtual production system, the Building Books for Student Success campaign exceeded goals, and we launched new training programs for Storytellers, Quality Assurance review, Fast-track for audio industry professionals, and the work-in-progress Literature Listener course. 

 

In the coming year we plan to continue to expand online volunteering with more book projects and a focus on special topics. Our Literature Listening program, once completed, will provide another avenue for new volunteers to get involved. In addition, changes to international copyright treaties have opened up the opportunity for us to deliver books in new markets like Canada.

 

Our volunteer webinar series has been a success and we are planning even more online meetings starting with an event later this month that focuses on what is done to a book project before and after you see it in production! Soon we will be using online meeting tools to have "office hours" when training staff will be available for assistance and questions from trainees.

 

We thank you all for your continued dedication to our mission and our borrowers. We look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead. 

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates

 

Tom H., Tiffany J., Stephanie L., Sarah B., Rick Y., Rachel R., Patrick K., Paige E., Margaret H., Lance L., Kimberly W., Katrina J., Jake P., Dorothy T., David V., Cat D., Calvin N., Bruce B., Alev B., Adam M., Jake P., Katrina J., William G., Jenny H., Paul H., Philip S.
 


Volunteer Spotlight - Bernard Strauss TV Interview

Learning Ally volunteer Bernie Strauss appeared on NBC 5 Chicago on an interview about his experience as a volunteer with Learning Ally. It was broadcasted on June 26 and 27.

 

The segment highlights the volunteer as a retired geneticist, who narrates science textbooks for Learning Ally. Bernard has volunteered for more than 9.5 years with us and transitioned from studio to virtual.

 

The segment also mentions Daniela, an LA solution user who is a senior majoring in Microbiology who has used the books recorded by Bernard and other LA volunteers.

 

To watch Learning Ally volunteer Bernie Strauss and Daniela's interview on NBCTV5, click on the video above.

 

Update for this week: Our readers increased to 209,928 this week – with 46,256 at frequency.  Pages read increased by 65% over last year for school readers! 

 

I hope you enjoy the video!


Literature Books Completed in May, 2019

The Literature team completed 74 Books in May!  Thank you for the hours of narrating, listening, teamwork and talent that makes this possible!


Staff Spotlight: Kevin Ziegler

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 Introduction

My name is Kevin Ziegler. I am the Digital Audio Coordinator with Learning Ally. In other words, I’ m the “audio guy”. I am in charge of QA (Quality Control). Basically, I handle all the audio as it is completed. In other terms, I strive to clean up and enhance all the audio. Lastly, through this blog, I was hoping to let everyone into my world and explain a bit about what happens in “post.”

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What is “Post- Production”? 

My primary focus is to level all the files across the entire book- which allows them to play smoothly without noticeable volume fluctuations. I also need to remove all the extra noise that can sometimes be introduced from different recording environments. After all of that, I “EQ” each title to best enhance the audio that is there--balancing the sonic frequencies to make it sound “good” to the ear.

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What do I utilize?

I use a program called Izotope RX7, which is an industry-standard audio editing and mastering tool. This program allows me to batch process (work with many titles all at once to save time) and customizes different options for dealing with common recurring audio issues.

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Is every title treated the same way?

Easiest answer is no. Most "classic audio" titles (textbooks and vocational-type books) are handled in the same fashion. As for the Voicetext, I listen to a sample from each book when it’s completed, and make a decision then about how to treat it, pulling from my different “recipes” as needed.

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What are the most common issues we encounter?

Mouse clicks, background noise, plosives (popping sounds on certain letters, esp. P’s and B’s), sibilance (harsh S sounds), electrical noise, & poor recording environments.

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 Setting a Proper Level:

I generally recommend that the light gray area of the Easybooks window be filled up with the level being set.

 

That being said, there isn't a precise min and max level. My suggestion is to always avoid any red in the recording level. Digital audio has a tendency to distort at those high levels. The other side if a level is so low it appears as only a blip in the window, it is more than likely much too low. I sincerely hope all this information makes sense. Also, if something looks or sounds wrong to you, point it out to the project lead.

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Important takeaway: While the tools I use are indeed very powerful and beneficial, I’m sorry to say, it cannot fix everything. This is especially true when we factor in time limitations and volume of titles we produce--all with our efficient-but-small production staff. That is why it is important to have the best possible audio signal at its source. I hope these answers help deepen your understanding of our process. If you have any questions, please email me at: kziegler@learningally.org and I will get back to you. Thanks again, for all your commitment and dedication towards Learning Ally.

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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.