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


The Power of Books: Encouraging Conversations on Social Justice

On Monday, June 15th, our very own Terrie Noland sat down with renowned actor, Michael Burgess. Burgess has appeared in over 100 commercials, television shows, and films and is now a volunteer for Learning Ally. 

 

Over the past two months, Noland has been hosting live read-alouds every Monday with Learning Ally volunteers on our Facebook Page. This particular read-aloud was one of our most powerful and engaging, as it corresponds to the social justice movements happening around the world today. 

 

During the read-aloud, Burgess narrated The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander. After the reading, Noland and Burgess dove into a discussion on the importance of welcoming conversations with families and friends to talk about race and social injustice. Noland and Burgess also talked about how the resolve of the human race is necessary as the world strives to effect change for equality and inclusion.

 

Here is a brief excerpt from Michael during the conversation:

“We come to a place where all of us have to share in that sense of finding a way to work through the difficult. It's no longer the work of any one group to have to deal with difficulties and say ‘You know what, I’m gonna work through it. I’m gonna keep my head up.” Now we have a national obligation to say there are many things we are suffering across the board and we’re going to have to work through it, we’re going to have to walk through it and we are going to have to get to the other side so we can look back as a nation and say ‘Wow that did happen and I'm still standing.’” 

 

You can find the rest of the read-aloud and conversation here: Learning Ally Reads Aloud

 

Our team at Learning Ally has compiled a collection of human-read audiobooks to help readers talk about race and social justice in and outside the classroom. Here is an interactive list of books that are included in the Social Justice Audiobook collection. More titles will be added on an ongoing basis. 

A List of Social Justice Books Included in the Social Justice Audiobook Collection. The books are separated by grade levels K-5, 6-8, and 8-12.

 

As our library continues to grow, we are in need of volunteer voices to help diversify our audiobook collection. Learning Ally is recruiting volunteers whose voices and backgrounds match the cultural experiences of the characters they narrate and the students who will be listening. We are currently in need of more volunteers who are African-American, Latinx, and/or fluent in Spanish and English to read literature and textbooks. Our casting team is working hard to find voices that will bring characters and stories to life and give students a more diverse group of voices to read to them.

 

If you or a friend is interested in volunteering, visit our Volunteer Opportunities page to learn more about how to get involved. 


Summer Pause and Twist

Greetings Volunteers,

We hope the summer finds you well and that you're able to enjoy good weather and some relaxation. As a reminder, if you're going on vacation for a few weeks be sure to let the book production staff know when you'll be unavailable to volunteer. Our book production calendar keeps on rolling!
 

Audiobook Recruitment Pauses

 

The biggest, and probably most surprising news is that we have put audiobook volunteer recruitment on pause for the rest of the summer. The tremendous influx of volunteers through the spring has overwhelmed our ability to provide enough content to supply the demand of volunteers. Already, we see large groups of volunteers waiting for books to read or to check, and eager to jump in on that work the moment it's available. Unfortunately, that means many others are kept waiting for the next project and opportunity. They always say "it's the kind of problem you want to have," but that doesn't mean it's not a problem. 

 

 

In the meantime, we will be collecting information from potential volunteers so that we can reach out to them later, when the program reopens. However, there are still some areas of our audiobook production program where we are lacking in volunteers!

 

We are still on the lookout for bilingual volunteers, particularly Spanish speakers, to work on foreign language textbooks. Professional voiceover artists are still needed for some of our dramatic and performed literature titles. We also have a number of African-American focused stories in our literature queue and are looking for authentic voices to record this content. If you can help us meet these needs, then reach out to a Learning Ally staff member, or email volunteers@learningally.org

 

Let's Do The Twist

 

If you attended our last Volunteer Nation Live event, or if you've been keeping up with the blogs, you'll know about our plans to gradually transition our chat client over from Google Hangouts to Twist. This change has been a long time coming, and is even more necessary now as the number of volunteers in our programs has surged. Check out this video for the overview, or watch the recorded Volunteer Nation Live event for more background on why we chose Twist. We look forward to seeing (and chatting with) you there!
 


We Are Grateful for Your Overwhelming Support

Volunteers! We are grateful and overwhelmed by your tremendous support over these last few months. Through your efforts, we have been able to support more students with more audiobooks than ever before. Here are some numbers to show just how unbelievable you have all been:

This is an image of a chart showing the average number of volunteer applications received before the month of March in 2020 and after after March 2020. Before March, there was an average of 200 volunteer applications. After March, there is an average of 1,012 applications per month.

  • We have received over 4,000 new volunteer applications since March!  To put this in perspective, we typically receive about 200 new volunteer applications each month. We have been averaging 1,012 applications per month since March --  that's 5 times more! See the bar chart on the left. 
 
  • We have had 340 new volunteers donate service since March -- over 3 times more than over the same period last year (97)! See the bar chart on the right. 
 
  • We have had 662 total volunteers donate service hours since March --  58% more than we had over the same period last year (418)!
 
  • Volunteers have donated 69,000 hours of service since July 1, 2019, with 43% or 29,490 of these hours donated since March 2020. This is 44% more than we had over the same period last year (418)! 
 
  • We produced 51% more audiobooks (479) between March and June than we did during the same period last year (317). 

This is an image of a chart showing the average number of volunteer applications received before the month of March in 2020 and after after March 2020. Before March, there was an average of 200 volunteer applications. After March, there is an average of 1,012 applications per month.

 

As we head into the summer months, we will be focusing heavily on the most important books needed for summer reading, as well as for back to school in the fall. 

 

Also, due to the unprecedented and appreciated influx of prospective volunteers during these last few months, we will be limiting new applications starting in July. This will allow us to catch up on communications to all of our new prospects, as well as continuing to support the onboarding of those that have progressed through training into our audiobook production communities or other new volunteer roles. 

 

Please note, we will not always have consistent and continuous work for all volunteers. Please feel free to check in with your production staff leads when you are looking for work through your usual communication channels. We will also reach out directly when we have a specific project need that we feel is a good fit for your skills and interests.

 

Thank you again for your amazing work supporting our audiobook solution and for your commitment to our mission to transform the lives of struggling learners.


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


The School Year Draws To a Close

Hello Once Again Volunteers,

 

The school year, such as it was, is winding down in many places but our work continues. Maintaining a love for reading means always having a book at hand and we aim to meet that need. Whether it's summer reading assignments or just enjoying a graphic novel sitting on the porch, we want to make sure borrowers can find and access books as easily as anyone.

 

Photo of Little Free Library in Easthampton, MA

Image by John Phelan / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)


Office Hours Reminder

 

Every Thursday afternoon we have an Office Hours meeting with representatives of Learning Ally staff from the Training and Support, VHOC, Textbook, and Storyteller teams. These are open-forum online meetings without an agenda, intended to be your opportunity to ask questions about book production, but they are more than just informational sessions. Office Hours are also an opportunity to get to know one another as volunteers and people. Remote volunteering can feel isolating, especially before you've learned the ropes, so having some facetime can do a lot to remind you who we are and why we do what we do.

 

The increase in volunteers in our programs has led to us expanding the Office Hours webinars as well. We now make use of "breakout rooms" to create special subgroups for the discussion of particular topics. If you feel a general subject discussion isn't to your liking, or if you've already finished training programs and would like to talk about advanced training or user tips, you can join a breakout room for VHOC or Storyteller grads.

 

We set up our Office Hours meetings to support our trainees and recent grads, but these are not exclusive events. If you've got a free hour, feel free to visit the webinar and get to see some of the new faces

 

You can join our Office Hours Thursday afternoon at 3:30 PM Eastern Time, 12:30 PM Pacific. For links and password information, just check the Communication Lesson on any Course on the Volunteer Training Site.

 


Congratulations To Our Recent Training Grads!

 

Douglas C-K, Jeniffer R., Christine P-P., Erica B., Christopher B., Jerald H., Howie McD., Ben K., Alyssa L., Susan B., Mitchell H., Jo M., Jennifer M., Talha T., Thritha A., Audrey P., Giselle, Ann R., Almaelisa G., Sandra M., MJ J., Amandi, Andrew D-H., Kendell H., Latisha V., Jamie N., Vince R., Michelle B., Sabrina M., Sedi-Anne B., Michael W., Stacy C., Kadier C., Anita J., Kevin M.,  Wendy L., Maya N., Alinnette H., Emma N., Kristen Y., Pete J., Elizabeth W., Patricia C-D., Adrienne J., Jerry Z., Simon Y., Jessica D., Erica B., Claire T., Emily S., Carol P., Dai G., Debra S., Yvonne M., Charis G., Laura R., Aren F., Deema S., R. W., Kyle C., Stacy G., Melissa E., Irene A., Aaron H., Zoe L., Wilson A., Kyieta B., Sally H., Nicholas A., Gela A., Christopher C., Meg M., Sharon S., Olivia K., Mackenzie B., James H., Joy P., Rachel S., Dexter B., Melie V., Camari M., Sianaleen L., Shawkin K., Samantha K., Ursula M., Sadaf F., Marissa M., J. M., Christina L., Karen T., Ardent G., Pazam S., Christina W., Robin B., Maria G-J., Marty J., Chloe G., Kelly H., Arysta V., Alexa J., Chloe C., Bob A., Terrill D., Mark B., Sathya D., Riley K., Jean E., Marylou A., Claire Z., Pooh P., Paula M., Julia S., Taurin W., Cato B., Lily G., Muriel W., Emilie T., Seth McL., Claire A., Regina L., Alisha K., Rasleen D., Sara J., Kelly D.


Volunteer Appreciation and the Work Yet To Be Done

Greetings, As Always to Our Loyal Volunteers,

 
We hope you're all staying safe and well. Learning Ally continues its efforts to serve the students and schools disrupted by the pandemic, as well as trying to serve our growing population of volunteers. 

Looking Back on Volunteer Appreciation Week

 

On April 21st we had a very special Volunteer Nation Live event in celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Week. We were able to feature several students and teachers who use Learning Ally books in their schools who shared their stories of learning and growth with audiobooks, as well as answering questions from our volunteers in attendance. If you missed the event we strongly urge you take the time to watch the recording on our Resources Page.

 

Still image of the McCarthy family from our Volunteer Nation Live event

 


We drive ourselves by asking Why: Why do we make the time and the effort to provide our services and resources? And we get our answer every time we see the people who benefit from our work. It's a beautiful reminder that we're doing more than making books - we're improving lives; offering success to people who would otherwise be forced to struggle. We bring out our best and afford others the chance to do the same. 

 

Project Shortages?

 

One of the results of having so many new volunteers (over 100 training graduates this month) as well as volunteers with extra time to donate, is that we are actually experiencing a shortage of work in some places. While it's exciting to see that we are not falling behind on deadlines, we are also fielding many requests for book project assignments, particularly in QA and in Storyteller narration. If you are looking for a project in those areas, we suggest you use the contact forms for Learning Ally staff assistance, such as the Assignment Request form for Storytellers.  We can earmark an appropriate book or project for you before we even list it in the catalog. 


Please note however, we are still limited by staff hours and book acquisition budgets. We have had to establish a "waiting list" of sorts for high-demand subjects or large casting pools. We thank you for your patience as we try to keep up with demand. Remember that we are always working to meet the needs of our students, as well as those of our volunteers.

 

Textbook Fast-Track for Storytellers

 

One way to help our Storyteller volunteers find more projects to record is to diversify your Learning Ally narrator skills. If you are a Storyteller narrator interested in helping us record textbooks, we've prepared a special course designed to fast-track experienced narrators with lessons on the specialized reading conventions and best practices for textbook narration. If you are interested in participating in this program please contact the volunteer training and support team by emailing voltraining@learningally.org. If you are uncertain or curious about textbook projects, why not take a look through the catalog of books in production. You'll see that a wide range of subjects and grade levels are available. 


Congratulations To Our Recent Training Grads!

Kourtney I., Trudi D., Luke B., Rohan B., BASIL G. S., Esme S., John B., Liza C., Rene R-R., Kylah F., Edita K., Sarah C., Julie M., Divyanshi S., Hermione P., neha K., Becky R., Colleen A-F., Ben H., Meredith S., Tim S., Chris G., Justin S., Hisham G., Arthur Q., Andy G-R., Latifah M., Carol B., Allison H., Shelby S., Laureanne P., David T S., Shaila M., Beverley H., Meghan L, Christopher C., Amy Z., Jaren J., Jennifer C., Ankitha S., Doris L-T., Oyindamola O., True T., Maureen D., Leslie E., JM J., Theo S., Estelle T., Lisa W., Heather S., Izzy L., April F., Richard K., Kai W., Jessica H., Kelly D., Ivy R., Swethaa R., Jenny S., Kathy O., Bo K., Belinda L., Mark C., Althea B., Priya K., Shyamala C., Anna C., AHUVA S., Haley K., Christina L., Richelle F., Janice O., Shayla B., Narineh S., Yvo S., khardema, Siya B., Smriti D., Jessica H., Michelle G., Edward B., F R., JM J., Erin C., Lisa W., Robyn W., Gustavo F., Mary A., Seattle S., Janet B., tolulope A., Neya G., Katie M., Abbie G., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C., Jennifer C., Belinda S L., Gary M., Maria F., Freya S., Rosalyn G., Becky C B., Lisa W., Dan E., Naomi P., Barbara F., Robert W., Shyamala B C., Alexis M., Melanie W., Heidi F., Wendy T., Sandra R., Zachary K-S., 
 


National Volunteer Week is coming soon!

With National Volunteer Week (April 19-25, 2020) right around the corner, we want to thank and recognize you all for the tremendous impact you’ve had on students who struggle to read. Since the start of the school year, 231,067 students have listened to over 118 million pages of Learning Ally audiobooks. 

 

What’s even more amazing is the impact our audiobooks solution has had in just the last month as schools across the country have closed and moved to remote learning due to COVID-19. Of the 231,067 students reading, over 23,000 (10%) read their first pages since March 6th. And of the 118 million pages read, over 19 million (16%) were read since March 6th.

 

This would all not be possible without the effort you have all put in. Since July 1, 2019, we’ve had 624 volunteers donate a total of 47,000 hours -- an average of 75 hours per volunteer! Over 6,700 (14%) of these hours were donated in March. We appreciate how you all have stepped up during this time of need. 

 

Thanks again to all of you! Our students need you.


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


Challenges and Opportunities for Learning Ally

Greetings Learning Ally Volunteers,

 
We hope that you are all staying safe and sane during these challenging times. As an organization, we are pivoting to meet the sudden changes to the needs of our students and our own business models. At the same time, our volunteers are already showing us a silver lining, making us proud of their efforts to help others affected by the crisis.

A woman holds a candle to light the darknessLearning Ally Responds to COVID-19

 

Cynthia Hamburger, COO and CIO of Learning Ally led a webinar to explain, in detail, what actions we are taking, and have already taken, to provide for our students and balance our business model. With school closures and more students learning at home, the usage of our Learning Ally Audiobook Solution has surged over ten times the numbers we saw last year. As schools recognize the importance and value of our learning tools, we are extending trial periods and contracts with those schools so that they can continue to offer our valuable solutions to students whose semesters have been disrupted. 

 

For more information, as well as an explanation of how we are revising fundraising needs and our "sales" plan to reach new students, you can watch a recording of the full webinar presentation on the Resources page of the Learning Ally Volunteer site.

 

A Volunteer Surge

 

In times of difficulty we are always happy to see people rise to the challenge and give what help they can. And with the present conditions keeping many people at home, volunteer opportunities like our online book production have become an excellent way to help struggling learners. Not only are our volunteers continuing the educations of our students, they are providing more books to keep them engaged with reading and entertained in the hours when they most need the comfort of a good book and a friendly voice.  

 

We have seen a massive increase in volunteer activity, with new volunteer applications at 250% what they were this same time last year.  Our training programs and meetings are full of new names, new faces, and new voices. 

 

All Learning Ally staff are now working from home. Fortunately, the online nature of our volunteering opportunity means our Production department has needed minimal adaptation to make this transition. Still, we are adjusting hours, availability, and workflow to support a large number of people with training and support needs in a very short time. We thank you for your patience and understanding as our efficient little team works to keep us all online and active. 

 

If you have questions or concerns, be sure to reach out through the Volunteer Portal, Volunteer Training Site, Google Hangouts and Groups, and other channels.


Congratulations Recent Training Grads

 
Aniella F., Heather S., Kara C., Robbyn P., Rob McG., Renee J., Eileen Y., Anne R., Annina K., Ryan L., Melissa L., Ariel C., Brittney S., Simon G., John G., Victor G., Michael M., Rich O., Marcelo T., Steve C., Abigail J., Maureen R., Marc R., Nicolas S., Nick F., Kristin O., Mary H., Sousa L., Gwen P., Kathy D., Kelli P., Debbie B., Elysia B., Larissa H., Linnea D., Eric A., Ari W., Andy L., Isabella H., Becky R., Jeffrey C., Yashvini D., Kim W., Laura M., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C.

Metrics Update April 4

Despite social distancing being extended through April, we are happy to report that our readers are not slowing down…
Our readers this week increased to 226,913 with over 114 million pages read and 43,037 at frequency – a 21% increase for schools over last year!
 

As we're all getting used to Zoom conference calls and everyone working from home, I wanted to share this video (linked below) from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra based in the Netherlands.  They’ve continued performing, despite COVID-19, by transitioning to playing virtually.  They remind us that together anything is possible… even when we’re remote! Enjoy Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”!
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra plays Ode to Joy remotely

https://youtu.be/3eXT60rbBVk 

 

And also, a quote from Edinburgh-based journalist, Hope Whitmore that seems particularly relevant to recent events:

 In hard times, reading fiction reminds us we are human in a way Twitter never can.  Reading teaches us not only about our common humanity – it is wonderful to see something expressed in words and think, ‘Yes! That’s exactly how I feel’ – but also about the world.  Reading gives me hope because the chroniclers of dark times tell us that they pass.

 

Have a great weekend, keep reading, and stay safe!