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Do you ever wonder how the textbooks make it into EasyBooks? How does THIS:
In the past, only staff, and maybe a very few scattered volunteers, set up books for production. In late 2017, however, Learning Ally created a Pre-Production Community also known as Team TOCTool. Currently, eight dedicated volunteers work on setting up books, using the TOCTool program to transform the information from pdfs into .html files for EasyBooks. TOCToolers serve the community in a very special way, making the recording process easier for the other volunteers, and lightening the load for staff members, who still set up books as well, but now have some relief so they can focus on other tasks.
The requirements of this job are an eye (and love) for detail, some computer ability, regular time to devote to the task, patience, and a PC (sorry, no Macs right now--but we’re working on a new version of the program for the future). Going through the pdf page by page, the TOCTooler types in every heading and its placement within the book, creating files along the way. One TOCTooler says, “It’s a great way to get to know the books very intimately, and to see ahead of time which books I might like to read or QC.”
Caren Snook is one of our most prolific TOCToolers, working steadily to provide the other volunteers with books to work on. Caren first joined the Learning Ally Athens (Georgia) Studio in 1973 and has put in well over 5,000 hours (not including undocumented hours from the “old days”). Over her 46 years with Learning Ally, Caren has served as a TOCTooler, Reader, Checker, bookmarker, local Board President, events tabler--she’s seen it all! Caren says about TOCTool, “The logic is appealing and the attention to detail that is required fits my personality...I really enjoy reading, but my house does not include a good space for that.” TOCTooling fits her schedule, and the house doesn’t have to be quiet for her to do it.
A former teacher, Caren’s love of Learning Ally led her recently to audit classes at the University of Georgia, classes required for the Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia. While attending these classes, Caren had the opportunity to learn more about the needs of our learners, and that knowledge has made her even more focused on excellence in her volunteer work, saying, “...it is incumbent on every volunteer to do his/her best every time...take time to find out the correct pronunciation...to reread the conventions...Recognize that everyone makes occasional errors, and learn from yours...If you aren’t feeling well, give yourself a break and take a day off. Our students are depending on you!”
As a team in the last calendar year, the group set up over 200 books for the Textbook Community! Other current members of TeamTOCTool are:
Jaqui Bradley, a former cloistered Franciscan nun and ongoing kitten rescue volunteer who started at the Upland (California) Studio in 2007 and also currently serves as a volunteer mentor in the VHOC.
Jaci Collins, who joined the Austin (Texas) Studio in 1998 and continues to read and QC as well.
Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, who joined the Athens Studio in 2015 and also serves as a Volunteer Coordinator.
Pat Lim, a freelance technical writer in the bio-pharmaceutical field who joined the Menlo Park (California) Studio in 2011.
Jim Siewert, a retired Honeywell engineer who started volunteering at the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Studio in 2004 and whose primary TOCTool focus is books for the Math Community.
Susan Wilson, a former corporate lawyer and current law school instructor who joined the Athens Studio in 2016; Susan not only works on TOCTool but is also helping Audrey Santos pilot a program for volunteers to create project sites (no photo available).
Beira Winter, who first joined the Hollywood (California) Studio in 2000, and besides all of her work for Learning Ally, also helped with her community’s float for this year’s Rose Bowl Parade.
Think you have what it takes to become a TOCTooler? Team TOCTool is open to any interested volunteer with the desire to try the task. For more information, contact Stacie Court sCourt@LearningAlly.org, or mention joining us in your STAFF Hangout. We’d love to have you on Team TOCTool!
Raise your hand if you remember Weekly Readers, those wonderful little newspapers we used to get years (and years!) ago in Social Studies class. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely loved them: the content was varied and interesting, presented in language I understood, with plenty of illustrations to pique my interest.
But...what if you can’t read print material? What if your first language is Spanish? Or what if you’re attending a magnet school for Spanish, with all materials in that language? What then?
da-da-da DAH! It’s David Alper to the rescue! David has been reading Spanish language materials for Learning Ally for nearly eleven years, first with the Athens (Georgia) Studio, and now with the Foreign Language Community. Over the past year, David read 192 (!) of these gems, all in Spanish, spending hours and hours (over 200!) making sure every detail was executed perfectly.
The Weekly Readers, along with many other projects Learning Ally records, are part of our contract with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which supervises primary and secondary public education in the State of Texas. According to Ed Bray, National Director of Government Relations and State Initiatives for Learning Ally, volunteers (maybe you?) who work on these projects “help us provide a comprehensive collection of Texas-adopted educational materials, including these Weekly Readers. The collection ensures students can access this broad set of curriculum materials.”
David, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, works long hours each week, traveling across three counties to serve as a School Psychologist for multiple schools. He first heard of Learning Ally through an ad in a local paper. He found that he really enjoyed combining reading aloud with helping others improve their reading comprehension and reach their educational and life goals. Volunteering with Learning Ally gives David a great deal of satisfaction, and being able to use his Spanish skills to help others, either through reading or quality control work, gives him a sense of purpose--and, he says, helps him maintain and even improve his Spanish through consistent practice--a great bonus!
David’s message to other volunteers: Work on what gives you pleasure and is a priority in the studio. Be positive and show appreciation toward your fellow volunteers. Attend live and online volunteer events as you’re able, and participate in the Hangout chats. Spread the word far and wide about Learning Ally!