K-12 | Read to Achieve


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Luther Jackson Middle School Celebrates Win of U.S. National Reading Competition
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May 14, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally

Luther Jackson Middle LogoLuther Jackson Middle School in the Fairfax County, VA Public School System, has won 2nd place in the Great Reading Games, a national reading competition designed to support teachers to motivate K-12 struggling and non-readers to read 20 minutes or more a day.

The Great Reading Games is the signature reading engagement competition offered by Learning Ally, an education technology nonprofit, based in Princeton, NJ. 

The national competition aims to support a school’s efforts to build a positive culture of readers in a school environment. A digital leaderboard tracks and highlights the number of pages students read, and how many students read in a school. Winning schools, teachers, and students receive Chromebooks, gift cards, headphones and prize packs.

Luther Jackson Middle School has a schoolwide emphasis on developing disciplinary literacy with a staff dedicated to improving students’ reading skills. This year, more than 380 7th and 8th graders read over 150,000 pages for a total of 12,591 minutes in the seven-week competition. Students competed against 22,000 of their peers from 1,210 U.S. schools and districts to place 2nd in the nation.

Chad R. Lehman, Principal at Luther Jackson Middle School, said “Our students and staff are extremely excited, proud, and honored to be recognized by Learning Ally as a top performer in the 2018 Great Reading Games. This is the first year our students and staff have utilized Learning Ally as a tool to support students who are working to improve their literacy skills and develop a love of reading. Learning Ally has significantly increased the amount of time students spend reading and has led to a higher level of engagement with our curriculum. Our teachers and students brought their “A” game to the reading competition and won!”

Top Student Winners

Two students at Luther Jackson Middle School will receive top honors. Qais Sakaji won 3rd place and Alexander Melgar won 6th place overall for reading the most books. Ten more students were also among the top 25 readers in Fairfax County.

Barbara A. Barnhart, a Special Education English Teacher said, “Learning Ally really resounded with Qais. He was a reluctant reader and passively read in class, flipping through pages, but not really engaging with text. He truly embraced the idea of reading for pleasure.  He would add books regularly to his bookshelf and tell me how many pages he read per night. He was motivated to earn more points on the school’s leaderboard. His reading stamina improved as did his vocabulary and he hasn’t stopped reading.”

Maggee Albertson, a Learning Disabilities Teacher and Sponsor of Model United Nations says, “Alex really embraced reading audiobooks from Learning Ally. After we read a novel in class, which was the first in a series, he read the rest of the series from Learning Ally. He came to class each day and wanted to share what was happening in the lives of the characters. He talks with me about what other books he might like. He would let me know if he liked the story. It was great to see him exploring new genres of fiction and discussing them with me.”

Luther Jackson Middle School serves more than 1450 students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. A majority are second language learners with more than 45 different languages spoken at home. Additionally, many special education students are dually identified as ESOL students. Students using Learning Ally can easily download audiobooks directly to their tablets, computers, smartphones, Chromebooks and other devices to read in school or on the go, even without Internet access. 

School Celebration –April 10, 2018

On Tuesday, April 10th at 9:00 am, Principal Lehman, along with faculty, parents, and Kim Norkin Banks, Learning Ally’s Education Manager, will honor the school’s victory and the students who made reading a priority with their rewards and prizes.

Rachel Haymond, a Fairfax County Assistive Technology Resource Teacher said. “It was awesome to see the playful “rivalry” among students and how effective this competition is to ignite students who struggle to read. I loved seeing the students read daily with such vigor.”

Hundreds more students in the Fairfax County Public School District use Learning Ally all year long and have collectively read over 1,000,000 pages.

If your school would like to participate in the Great Reading Games, call 800.221.1098, email programs@LearningAlly.org or visit www.LearningAlly.org/Educators

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read at home and at school, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases student confidence and self-belief.

Learning Ally partners with 13,000 U.S. schools, districts and state education systems to empower over 300,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and critical thinking skills. For 70 years, the organization has helped to transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential to become confident, lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

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Tech Tools and Learning Modalities Level the Learning Field for Students with Vision Impairments
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May 10, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

Photo of Paige MorraPaige Morra wanted to be an engineer. She thought her career goals were all set until she interned and completed her practicum for Dr. Edward Bell, a professor who directs the Louisiana Tech Graduate Programs for the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness. Dr. Bell and his wife Mrs. Maria Morais are blind.

Paige says, “I experienced firsthand how people, who are blind, can lead incredibly “normal” lives. Dr. Bell and Maria opened my eyes to the true definition of what is possible for people with vision impairments. They are accomplished professionals, wonderful parents, and extraordinary role models. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to help more students with visual impairments succeed. I wanted sighted people to understand what real learning potential is for these learners.”

Paige changed her major to Family and Child Studies. She volunteered at summer camps. She learned braille and the benefits of technologies to equip students with visual and print challenges to succeed academically. She graduated with a Masters of Art in Teaching, and now works at Plano Independent School District as a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, (TVI). 

Paige is the first TVI to receive Learning Ally’s Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award. We loved her remarkable contributions to the field of special education and blindness in support of students, (infants to age 22), and her unwavering belief that students with visual impairments can achieve great things with the right tech tools and learning modalities. “I fell in love with the field,” she says, “It was like a door opened and said, “You can make a real difference! Learning Ally is a big part of the solution!”  

Multi-Modal Learning Works with Accessible Curriculum and Assistive Technology – “Ear-reading”

Many of Paige’s students learn in braille because they like the tactile form of comprehending curriculum. Other students learn through audiobooks, sometimes referred to as “ear-reading,” because they prefer to listen to text narrated by subject experts.  “This modality enhances students’ comprehension and critical thinking skills,” says Paige. “They get the full context of the story. It’s awesome to see children with headsets on so absorbed in a story or giggling about something they are reading.”

A fourth grader with a degenerative eye condition prefers to follow the printed book in Braille and follow along through headphones with human-narrated audio from Learning Ally. “This resource made a huge difference for students to get their books on time in accessible audio format,” she says.  Some students have short attention spans – a challenge for many teachers -- but with quality education technology, these students are super engaged learners.

“Whether they use a Perkins Braille Writer, a Mountbatten, a Braille note Apex or Learning Ally audiobooks, these tools keep students ahead of the curve, on grade level and socially no different than other students. This is a good thing to feel and look normal, just like everyone else,” said Paige.

She believes that when children with learning differences start early to use technology they become independent readers. Using an iPad with Learning Ally’s LINK app, students can easily enlarge font size to reduce eyestrain; bookmark chapters or sections to take notes for reports; and follow precise page numbers as a printed textbook. “These functions level the learning field for students, especially as they progress to upper grades and prepare for college,” said Paige who is always thinking about her student’s future.

Teacher-Supported Progress Data and Reading Engagement ProgramsPaige, her classmates and colleagues with Terrie Noland, Learning Ally Director of Educator Engagement

This tech-savvy teacher uses her smartphone to monitor her student’s progress. She logs into Learning Ally’s Teacher Ally dashboard and downloads performance data to discuss with teachers and parents and to prepare student’s IEP or individualized education programs. She can quickly assign a required audiobook to a student’s account and take advantage of the ready-made reading engagement programs that Learning Ally offers teachers throughout the year at no cost.

Paige says, “Parents are excited to know that their child can access the digital library even when school is not in session or if there is no Internet at home. Parents appreciate the reading independence Learning Ally human-read audiobooks provide. I appreciate knowing that we have equipped more students for success and helped to change the course of their lives, just as Dr. Bell and Maria did for me.”  

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Five Summer Reading Tips for Educators
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May 1, 2018 by Jenny Falke

How to Encourage Students To Read All Summer Long

boy reading outside on tabletDid you know students in Learning Ally schools can access human-read audiobooks at home all summer long? Here are ideas to ensure your students have what they need to read all summer to maintain progress, finish assigned summer reading and come back to school in the fall confident and prepared.


1. Sign up your students! Login and ensure your students are signed up for Summer Reading Together.

2. Follow the NEW Simple Summer Lesson Plan to prepare students for summer reading. This lesson plan will help you give students and parents everything they need to be successful this summer.

3. Encourage students to read every day for 20 minutes and to log in at least once per week to find their daily progress markers on their student dashboard.

summer reading together dashboard

4. Motivate them by sharing about the prizes and social media challenge!

  • Twenty prizes will be given for monthly and overall summer reading activity, including $100 gift cards!
  • Students who share their books recommendations #mysummerbook and vocabulary words #mysummervocab using #SRT19 and tagging @Learning_Ally will be entered in a random drawing for a Chromebook.

5. Let’s read together! Read along with your students this summer and track your own progress using our printable calendar. Keep in touch with your students through social media and share your reading activity.

Learn more at LearningAlly.org/summer or access all the educator resources.

Want to participate in Summer Reading Together with Learning Ally at your school?

Learning Ally is a cost-effective solution to help your students who read below grade level boost their vocabulary, comprehension and test scores. Our extensive library of human-read audiobooks includes core content, is easy to set up, and fits into your existing curriculum.

Learn how you can transform the lives of your struggling readers. Call 800-221-1098 or email programs@LearningAlly.org.

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Learning Ally Announces Scholarship Winners of the 2018 National Achievement Awards in Teaching and Learning Excellence
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April 26, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally

Each year, Learning Ally receives hundreds of nominations for three endowed scholarships to recognize exemplary students for their academic and personal achievements.

The organization also recognizes U.S. teachers who go the extra mile to ensure that all struggling readers with learning disabilities rise to their academic potential and life pursuits through access to human-read audiobooks.

Any Learning Ally student member or teacher who meets the eligibility criteria may submit an application to a national selection committee who oversees the application review process. The winners of the three award programs receive a financial scholarship and public recognition.

Educator Award Presentation Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award

Co-teachers, Katherine Young and Elizabeth Hauser, of Grayslake North High School, District 127, IL, are the top teacher winners of this prestigious award. Katherine, a Speech and Language Pathologist and Elizabeth, a Reading Specialist, were selected for their unique hands-on approach and collaboration in the classroom to help more students reach higher levels of achievement and learning independence. Each received a $1500 cash award and $4000 for their school.

In addition to the top winners, these U.S. K-12 teachers are also honored for their exemplary teaching. Each received a cash award of $1200 each and $500 for their school:

  • Cathy O’Hollearn, Learning / Reading Specialist, Good Shepherd Catholic School at the Denver Archdiocese
  • Nelda Reyes, Learning / Reading Specialist, DeZavala Elementary School, (CISD) San Marcos Texas
  • Stacy Webster, General Education Teacher, Stephen F. Austin High School, Texas
  • Paige Morra, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Wells Elementary School, Plano ISD, Texas

Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Award

The recipients of this award are Learning Ally high school members with learning differences, such as dyslexia, who require accessible audiobooks to comprehend complex information and study on grade-level. The top 2018 student winners are:

  • Adrianna Mowrer, Perkiomenville, PA - Adrianna is a freshman at Penn State majoring in animal science. She aspires to practice veterinary medicine. “Having dyslexia and the freedom to access the world of learning through Learning Ally removed boundaries for me and enabled me to pursue a dream I once thought to be impossible to achieve.”
  • Analyssa Morales, Highlands Ranch, CO - Annalysa graduated from high school with a 3.9 GPA and received a scholarship to Flagler College in Florida to study Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. “Before I found Learning Ally, reading was always, “I can't. I can't. I can't.” The first audiobook I read was my first “I can!" I was like a superhero that had suddenly discovered their power and abilities. Now, I want to inspire the personal growth and achievements of other children who learn differently.”
  • Justin Purvis, Scotch Plains, NJ - Justin plans to attend the Kubert School of Arts to pursue a career in graphic and comic design and illustration. In school, he endured ridicule and bullying about his dyslexia and learning differences, but Learning Ally became a turning point for him through the ability to access curriculum in the form of accessible human-read audiobooks. “Learning Ally made my life easier. I no longer dreaded reading assignments and was able to embrace my gifts and knowledge. Human-narration brought the words in context and the stories to life for me.”

These students also received special recognition in the Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Award category:

  • Kelly Roberts, Coral Gables, FL
  • Navah Berner-Kadish, Tacoma Park, MD
  • Miranda Sinsheimer, Berkeley, CA

Terrie Noland, Learning Ally’s National Director of Educator Engagement said, “Each student who receives this recognition has surpassed some incredible challenges -- physically, mentally and culturally -- and rose to the highest standard of excellence. They demonstrate courage, tenacity, and inspiration to all of us at Learning Ally and their peers.”

Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Award

The top winners of this scholarship award are college undergraduate and graduate students who are blind or visually impaired and have faced tremendous challenges.

  • Melissa DeRoche, Gramercy, LA - Melissa was born with congenital cataracts and underdeveloped eyes. In junior high, she lost her vision after experiencing retinal detachment. Despite these challenges, Melissa went on to receive a B.A. in psychology and an M.Ed. in human services counseling at the University of New Orleans. She earned her Ph.D. in counselor education and is now an Assistant Professor in Counseling at Troy University in Alabama. Melissa cites Learning Ally services as being “crucial” to her personal, educational, and professional successes. “Learning Ally enables anyone with print disabilities to effectively compete in academia and the professional world. I cannot think of a more effective resource.”
  • James Boehm, Nashville, TN - James was a successful entrepreneur until the economy turned south in 2009 and he lost his vision. With the support of Learning Ally, he graduated with honors and was accepted into the Peabody College of Vanderbilt clinical counseling program. “I would not have transitioned from a life of uncertainty to a life of achievement and self-confidence if it were not for Learning Ally.”
  • Reem Hamodi, Aurora, CO – Reem faced many challenges in her home country of Iraq. As a child who was blind, there were few services and resources available. Her mother recorded all of her books. Moving to America as an ESL student, Reem found Learning Ally audiobooks with human narration to enhance her ability to understand complex math concepts and to learn to speak English. Today, she attends the University of Colorado, Denver and volunteers as a crisis counselor. She is working towards her Ph.D. degree in psychology with the goal of becoming a professor and a counselor. “Learning Ally was a great tool for me. I became an independent reader and learner. My life is now forever changed!”

Andrew Friedman, President, and CEO of Learning Ally says, “These students and teachers inspire us to keep providing and developing the best solutions we can to support more students with learning differences to succeed. Thanks to the generosity of our donors and their families, we can continue to provide our members with scholarships that can advance their education and career goals in whatever they set out to do.”

For information about supporting students who learn differently, visit www.learningally.org/educators or call 800-221-1098 to request a demo.

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle, high schools and colleges. Our proven solution includes an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read at home and at school, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success. This reading experience helps accelerate learning, enables a new level of access to knowledge and powerfully increases confidence and self-belief.

Learning Ally successfully partners with more than 13,000 U.S. schools, districts and leading state education systems across the country to empower over 300,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, critical thinking skills and learning independence. For over 70 years, the organization has helped to transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential to become confident, lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

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Kids Who Learn Differently…Educating the “Whole Child.”
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April 23, 2018 by Jhara Navalo

By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally

Cathy O'HollearnFaculty and students at Good Shepherd Catholic School in the Denver Archdiocese are singing the praises of Cathy O’Hollearn, a reading specialist just awarded Learning Ally’s 2018 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award. She is among six teachers in the U.S. to receive this prestigious award for her work with students with learning disabilities.

To her students and colleagues, Cathy is a “rockstar” teacher who strives to support children on their learning terms – academically, emotionally and socially. “Mrs. O’Hollearn get’s me,” is what her elementary and middle school students say. “She believes in me!” And that’s what we really love about Cathy O’Hollearn.

Special Reading Program for Special Learners

Cathy works with children in K-8 identified on the Dibels assessment as having “gaps” in their reading acquisition. These students require a special kind of TLC or “tender-loving care”. Students study reading and writing skills like phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension, but also decoding skills. “This is where Learning Ally’s human-narrated audiobooks are beneficial,” she says. Learning isn’t easy, especially for non-traditional learners. My students do not sit still in class or write things down. Their brains process information differently. They are hands-on learners. Many are exceptional thinkers. Once you “get their learning style,” you meet them on their terms. They appreciate this and are eager to prove themselves. They begin to recognize they are special and that’s okay. We want to become self-believers!”

Educating the Whole Child – A National Role Model

Cathy With Students When our award committee reviewed Cathy’s nomination, we heard from teachers and students and parents who described this educator to have a deep passion for “connecting and caring for the whole child.”

Many parents say she is a “Godsend,” for their child. “She took my son from a 4th grade reading level to a 10th grade level when he was in 6th grade. “This is a game-changer!”

“Cathy’s has a unique way of getting to the heart of struggling readers,” said a teacher. “Her insight, teaching style and encouragement, has opened a path for lots of struggling readers to become confident learners.”

A student wrote, “Ms. Cathy is the best part of my day! Before her class, I hated to read; now I can’t stop reading!” Last year, a student who was dyslexic gave a presentation to her 5th-grade class about her struggle to read. This had an amazing trickle-down effect on students and teachers to better understand and accept learning differences.

Humbly, Cathy turns this appreciation back to her colleagues, administrators, students and parents. “They are the true winners,” she says. “I use effective reading strategies and resources, like Learning Ally, to validate my students to believe in themselves and to push their boundaries to be exemplary learners. This can happen with the right tools and motivation.”

Audiobook “Ear” Reading -- A Different Way to Process Information

cathy Receives AwardStudents in Cathy’s classes receive individualized instruction, small group instruction, and access to digital accessible books to hear text read aloud, while following highlighted words on their iPad or digital device. Human-narrated audiobooks bring the story or textbook to life to deepen students’ contextual understanding of information.

Cathy says, “The educational library is a tool for students who need access to curriculum -- textbooks and popular reading -- in accessible format to comprehend what they read. This access enables them to read the same information as their peers – just in a different medium.”

She notes Learning Ally is easy to set up and manage. “Just create a bookshelf and load students up with books. If they forget their textbook, they can access it immediately - a timesaver for everyone. Audiobooks have helped more students become independent learners – a skill their teachers and parents are extremely grateful for.”

Good Shepherd Acrdiocese School-to-Home Connection – The Archdiocese Doctrine

Good Shepherd is a private, faith-based Catholic School Archdiocese in the heart of Denver, with a dedicated faculty, staff, and families who share core values similar to Learning Ally.

The Archdiocese’s doctrine inspires academic excellence, while building a compassionate, inclusive and supportive learning environment through a school-to-home learning connection. “We never turn away a child who is a non-traditional learner,” says Cathy.

Thanks to funding by the Zarlengo Foundation, the Archdiocese has schoolwide access to Learning Ally’s reading accommodation and suite of data-driven teacher-supported tools and ready-to-use reading engagement programs. Cathy enjoys tapping into these resources to liven her class reading goals.

“I take great pride watching students that I taught in kindergarten now thrive in eighth grade and are prepared to move on to high school. Many attend honors and mainstream classes and I am confident that their transition will be smooth. They are accomplished non-traditional learners who believe they can succeed and they will!”

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