Shelby County Schools & Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare Announce Greater Memphis K-5 Reading Initiative with BookNook

Shelby County Schools (SCS) is not taking any chances with supporting struggling readers, especially those who were identified as in need of reading intervention well before the pandemic suddenly upended classrooms and daily teacher-student engagement across Greater Memphis. To address reading literacy as a critical need, and to minimize the “Covid slide” plaguing other districts around the country, SCS announces an exciting expanded partnership with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH). This reading initiative scales technology-infused guided reading through BookNook to support 40 elementary and K-8 schools, plus 35 combined afterschool programs, congregations, and charter schools across the city.  

Triggering the need for wide-scale support, reading literacy has been identified as a social determinant of student and family health, and one of several economic and social conditions that influence differences in health status. Dr. Albert Mosley, senior vice president and chief mission integration officer at MLH, explains why this is so critical to all families: 

“Based on the 2019 TNReady Assessment, about 75% of SCS third graders across the district are not where they need to be with their grade level reading. Third grade reading is a predictor of graduating from high school, and predicts health literacy. If a patient can’t fully understand what a doctor is saying and can’t accurately take medications, that will have a direct impact on health outcomes. This is why third grade learning is both an education and healthcare issue,” states Dr. Mosley.

“SCS and MLH are two longstanding community institutions with a shared commitment to serving and improving the well-being of Shelby County/Memphis families,” said Superintendent Dr. Joris M. Ray. “We’re mobilizing additional resources and tools to bring more students the reading support they need to put them on the right path toward academic success.”

What makes the program extraordinary is the coalition of partners that are mobilizing hundreds of adults as reading tutors. A massive collaborative effort is underway with Greater Memphis nonprofit organizations, churches, and other faith-based institutions. Dedicated community members from groups like Red Door Urban Missions and Neighborhood Christian Centers play a dominant role in bringing reading support to struggling students and families. 

“No app can teach kids how to read. It takes a human touch,” says BookNook CEO Michael Lombardo, “BookNook enables more opportunities for adults to be a part of the equation. From church volunteers to teachers in virtual classrooms, to families at home, caring adults are coming together to help kids struggling with reading, using our technology as a bridge for both connecting and together making life-changing reading breakthroughs.” 

The nucleus of the partnership was a spring 2019 pilot with a seed grant from Shelby County-based Urban Child Institute (UCI) and support from Read901. That summer, 95% of the 979 participating Memphis students either maintained (60%) or increased (35%) their grade level equivalency. 

Then as COVID-19 hit, BookNook quickly pivoted to provide virtual tutoring to complement their tech-based platform, achieving positive results nationally with an average of 3.5 months of literacy progress during the spring school shutdown (and even further results to date).

SCS launched another pilot program in April 2020, funded through the CARES Act for 25 participating after-school sites and schools, with the help of volunteer tutors from both SCS and City Year Memphis. Among the 417 students in the pilot, average projected reading growth increased nearly four times over, with progress measured against a full year of traditional instruction, effectively reversing “Covid slide.”

The tremendous success of these earlier programs has prompted SCS to expand to 40 schools, scaling up the number of students and families who will benefit from strengthening both reading and health literacy. BookNook will be implemented based on individual school needs, whether as part of the regular curriculum, as school-day interventions, or as after-school enrichment, with the community coalition continuing to play a prominent role in the initiative. As the cloud-based BookNook runs on any device, including SCS tablets issued to students, the anticipation is for a seamless transition from distance to in-person learning when students return to the classroom.

In total, with the expanded partnership, a minimum of 3,000 K-5 students will receive live interventions, guided reading support, and remote tutoring for the 2020-21 school year. For more information, contact SCS Media Relations at

About BookNook
BookNook is a social enterprise on a mission to close the reading opportunity gap by using technology to provide every student access to world-class teaching, whether at school or online. Founded in 2016, BookNook has quickly grown to partner with hundreds of schools, school districts, and nonprofits across 32 states. It has received national recognition for its impact on students’ reading ability and its unique equity-based pricing model.

Learn more about Partnership opportunities:                         
Aaron Waters


PGCPS Reads: The Story of Beginning Readers

The Story of Benji: Benji is a pretty good reader. He’s seven attending first-grade classes at Dora Kennedy French Language Immersion School in Greenbelt, Md.  Like many children in the county – and the country – he is attending those classes at home.

Children at immersion schools or who are learning English as their second language often have to work a little harder to keep up with their reading skills even under normal conditions, because they are learning two sets in both languages. This expected hindrance has been exacerbated by distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Knowing and seeing that, Benji’s mother Jaunae said she signed Benji up for BookNook tutoring through Prince George’s County Public Schools PGCPS READS program, “The first day I got the email.” “BookNook, they say it’s about improving reading skills not teaching skills,” Jaunae said, “But he surprises me now that he knows certain words and BookNook is helping him break down the words into prefixes and suffixes.” 

She said Benji is clearly “learning things”, his understanding of syllables and rhyming has greatly improved and that daily he is able to pick out and read words she “wouldn’t expect from a first grader.” “We are still working on inflection and pauses,” Jaunae said. “But they are teaching comprehension skills too and I didn’t realize that.”

The Story of Bradley: In another part of Prince George’s County, Dalia, mother to 5-year-old Bradley, said she was also surprised with the speed of her son’s reading growth working with BookNook only two days a week. He moved up several reading levels in school since he began tutoring in November.

“Bradley is a beginner. He barely knew his letters, ” Dalia said. Heading into first grade at Greenbelt Elementary School school next year, she was worried that with the distance learning Bradley would fall behind.  

“He knew some sounds but he didn’t have any recognition of those sounds to the letters really … now he knows almost all of his letters and the sounds,” Dalia said.  And she said his tutoring is now in line with and reinforcing his daily classwork.  “Anytime he has tutoring on Monday or Wednesday, I see the next day he is a little more confident in his school’s virtual classes,” she said.  

But what is keeping the boys interested is the sense of community across schools that they are building in their pods. It is perhaps the aspect both parents said is what is driving their child’s interest.  Both boys are in virtual pods with children from other Prince George’s County Public Elementary schools.

Benji has three other children in his BookNook pod, Jaunae said, adding, “ His favorite part is talking to the other kids about what happened in the books they read and talking to them about their schools and their neighborhoods, and it’s like he has a whole new set of friends.”

“So, I found it rewarding that all the kids are from the same county,” Dalia said.  “He looks forward to seeing different faces and that’s what gets him excited to come to the sessions.”

The Results: Both boys’ growth has led to both an increase in reading comprehension, confidence, ability and interest.  Jaunae says Benji now reads to himself more and asks more questions when they read together.  “And his confidence is much higher than it was  … much higher.”

Bradley can now find and open the BookNook App and get into his pod on his own, and is able to identify more than pictures. “I can see easily how much they are reading and how much they are growing,” said Dalia. “He basically started from zero and has moved up tremendously, in what has basically been two months,”  She said, adding, “when you include the breaks holidays.” 

Bradley’s sessions are Mondays and Wednesdays and I remember on ‘M.L.K.’ Monday he was crushed that he didn’t have BookNook twice that week.”

Results like this truly take a village. It starts with determined students, eager to learn, aided by thousands of parents, tutors, caregivers, educators, paraprofessionals, AmeriCorps members, and volunteers.

To date, BookNook is now in 34 states with new city and district-wide partnerships blossoming every week, from urban non-profit coalitions in Detroit, MI, to coastal schools across California, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Maryland.

Learn more about BookNook

How a healthcare system in Memphis is working towards long-term health impacts through reading

How a healthcare system in Memphis is working towards long-term health impacts through reading

It’s 8:30am in Memphis, TN, and BookNook employee Ben Koshland is about to join a Zoom video conference meeting with his team members. It’s a daily call, and since it’s early, he joins it from home – his team doesn’t mind the cat wandering in the background. Besides, they are joining in from Oakland, CA, Atlanta, GA, Portland, ME, and Detroit, MI and they have their own animals to deal with from their home offices. They talk for 17 minutes about their upcoming days and the over 180 sites that they work with across the country helping kids learn how to read.

Ben Koshland, BookNook Memphis Program Manager

At around 9:30am, Ben jumps into his white Subaru and makes the 8 minute drive to the headquarters of Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, a University of Tennessee academic hospital bustling with patients, and housing up to 617 patients every night. Just down the street from the nationally-known St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Methodist Le Bonheur benefits from a strong healthcare community in the Mid-South city of Memphis. Ben steps into the elevator of the administrative building for Methodist Healthcare and punches the number 7. As he steps out and waves to Ms. Bev, the always-kind and smiling receptionist, he badges into the floor – the executive suite of the healthcare system. He passes Albert Mosley in the hall, the Chief Mission Integration Officer, and an ordained United Methodist Minister, and talks quickly about how the BookNook implementation is going at a site in North Memphis, and steps into his windowless office.

After lunch with Stacy Smith, director of the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health Equity, Ben fields calls from several of the 12 faith-based sites that have implemented BookNook. A device is broken at a church near the airport. Schools are doing assessments for kids at a faith-based refugee program. A large church nearby needs some data. They’re about to get a rush of over 400 kids collectively and BookNook’s servers are about to light up with kids learning.

And rightfully so. For the 600+ kids that have used BookNook in Memphis over the past 12 months, they’ve seen a 40% increase in reading growth.

How did this partnership of Technology, Churches and Faith-Based Institutions, and Healthcare come about to help kids with their reading? Three people, Gary Shorb, Executive Director of the Urban Child Institute and former longtime CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Stacy Smith, at Methodist Healthcare, and Michael Lombardo, CEO/Founder of BookNook, had an unlikely meeting 18 months ago that would change the outlook for these kids in Memphis forever. An innovative technology company would adapt its model. A forward-looking healthcare organization would see the data that reading ability in children affects long-term health. And a foundation would support this unlikely partnership out of deep care for the children of a city where 53% of students read below a basic level.

Several years ago, a study presented at the American Public Health Association showed a troubling trend: the highest correlated predictor of Teenage Pregnancy was if the teen could read by the end of third grade. This upended the world of education, who’s reading scores have not significantly improved for the past 10 years. Something had to be done, and soon! Many states passed “third grade reading laws” which had either a carrot or a stick for students who were not proficient by the end of third grade. But reading scores barely improved. Many academics debate the reasons why this is happening, but one thing is clear: it’s not for lack of effort by teachers across the United States.

However, school is only a part of the hours that children have each day. And, when that bell rings at 3pm, most parents are still working. Enter the importance of after school programs. And in Memphis, a city with the highest number of churches per capita, the faith community has stepped up in a big way to help care for students between the hours that they get out of school and their parents arrive home from work. Federal data shows the importance of afterschool programming, and this has led to an increase in the funding – specifically with “21st Century Grants” that are given to states to administrate. But the need for afterschool programming far outstrips the funding, so churches across the city of Memphis are taking the health of children in their community seriously by donating time, money, and resources towards their afterschool programs.

Some of these programs are small – like Rev. Tondala Hayward’s at Longstreet United Methodist Church in South Memphis. This church near the headquarters of FedEx and the Memphis Airport, and hosts anywhere from 10-15 students each day after school. Rev. Hayward started this program because, as a former teacher, she saw the need in her community. 

Others are large. Refugee Empowerment Program in Central Memphis is run by the always-honest Cam Blackmon. Cam plays host to over 100 children of refugees every single day, because she and her staff provide services to the refugees as well.

But these afterschool programs lack the financial resources to have certified teachers come and help their kids. While they’re doing amazing work with kids and inbound academic needs, like homework help, they cannot afford to fund a more proactive academic program that pushes kids to increase their reading ability every day. 

BookNook creates a fun an engaging environment for kids while teaching them how to read.

Enter BookNook. This innovative technology product was built specifically for busy teachers (read: every teacher) and non-educators. It takes away the prep time and scaffolds the curriculum for both students and adults so that anyone can help a student learn how to read. 

BookNook, though vastly cheaper than hiring a full time educator, still costs money. So, thanks to the generous support of the Urban Child Institute, these faith-based institutions get BookNook, and Ben’s time, for no cost.

But BookNook, as a small company across many states, doesn’t have the resources to connect with multiple afterschool programs and tell them about the program, as well as help them develop after school programs if they do not already have one. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, however, already has a strong relationship with churches across the mid-south through its Faith Health initiative. 

Run by Stacy Smith, the Faith Health Initiative activates lay members of churches across the area to promote and encourage preventative health in a church setting. This drastically decreases costs of healthcare over time to the individuals receiving the preventative healthcare. And since Methodist Healthcare is a provider of free healthcare to many thousands of people, it is a great way to encourage overall health of the community.

It was a natural progression to promote this new program to the over 100 churches Stacy Smith works with through the Faith Health Initiative. Since Methodist Healthcare is working to promote healthy living for adults in churches, pushing the leading predictor of healthy living later in life seemed liked an easy addition.

When Ben and Stacy started promoting BookNook, they thought it would be an uphill battle. A new technology program coming to town? They were wrong. In the first few months of the grant, they were already oversubscribed. Word was getting out and more programs wanted in. BookNook and Methodist both took on a few extra programs, even though they weren’t being paid for out of the grant. 

Then, after the first summer with the program, the results were due. Would it have worked? Was all of this effort and cost going to be worth it? The results were better than could have been predicted. Through an outside evaluation, BookNook showed that 95% of students who used BookNook during the summer stayed the same or increased their reading ability. This is in contrast to most students who lose 2-3 months’ worth of ability throughout the summer.

Seeing the success, Urban Child renewed the grant for Methodist Healthcare and BookNook for the coming year, meaning that the organizations can continue pushing for long-term impact in the city of Memphis. That over time, healthcare costs should go down, and that the opportunity for students, regardless of their zip code, is bright.

Lifetime Education & Nonprofit Leader Ellen Moir Joins BookNook Advisory Board

Lifetime Education & Nonprofit Leader Ellen Moir Joins BookNook Advisory Board

OAKLAND, Calif — BookNook continued increasing the depth of experience on its advisory board today by adding longtime education leader and teacher advocate, Ellen Moir. 

Ellen is the Founder and former CEO of the New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. Ellen’s deep expertise will help BookNook improve on its professional development process for teachers across the US that use BookNook to help them provide world class reading instruction.

Ellen also brings with her a wealth of knowledge about school districts and their operations which will increase the effectiveness of the BookNook partnerships team as they implement in more districts across the country.

“Ellen is a legend in the teaching community and brings a unique and incredibly valuable perspective to efforts to support  teachers in those challenging first few years on the job,” said Michael Lombardo, BookNook’s CEO and Founder. “She will help us continue to refine our platform for teachers of all backgrounds and we look forward to partnering with her to realize our shared vision that every child in the United State should get excellent teaching every day.”

Ellen said “I continue to be impressed with what BookNook has been able to do with technology; particularly the way it scaffolds for teachers, para-educators, and afterschool employees. I’m extremely lucky to have joined forces with such a talented group who cares about teachers and ensuring that their students get the best instructional content.”

About BookNook

BookNook is on a mission to ensure every child has access to a world-class teaching with an adaptive digital reading and language platform that helps students make measurable progress in improving achievement. With a headquarters in Oakland, CA, BookNook has partners and employees across 19 states dedicated to serving the student in their community with an easy-to-use, rigorous, and fun platform.

Press Contact:
Nate Strong

Why Technology Doesn’t get Implemented (And What To Do About it)

Why Technology Doesn’t get Implemented (And What To Do About it)

Recently there was an article that was passed around at BookNook about the Six Unforgivable Sins of Teacher Professional Development. One stood out to me – Trying to Flash Credentials You Don’t Really Have – basically saying “I was a teacher too.” The reason it stood out to me is that I can never say it – even though I train teachers a lot, I was never actually a teacher.

But, my team and I train somewhere around 500-1000 educators and education leaders a year. We’re becoming experts at implementing software at schools all across the country. And while most of our implementations go amazing, we see a few themes when they don’t go so well.

Because we believe in technology and the power it can have to help educators and students, we want to share with you the biggest ways we see technology fail in schools – and then we’ll talk about ways to prevent this from happening so that the technology your school just purchased gets great use!

IT Problems
I must say, IT gets a bad rap. Their job is to keep everything secure and humming along. So, every time you introduce something new into their arsenal, they have to make sure that it fits with everything in your current tech stack. And, they’re not bad at doing this – the average large district has over 700 technology applications in use! IT works hard to get this up and running and compliant.

But, to get all of this done, one of the first things that school leaders need to do with new technology is tell IT. File a ticket, remind them, email them, call them – all of these things are needed to get the application ready for use on day one. This is often an afterthought – because educators are excited about getting the technology to help their students.

To solve this, send an email or file a ticket as soon as you buy the software. Don’t wait to even schedule the PD, get the ticket in the system right away. If the company that you bought the software is really awesome (like BookNook #shamelessplug), then they’ll even follow up with IT for you and tell you what to say. This way, you can be in the process of getting all the checks done and installation taken care of so you have ample time to test before the big launch day.

No Carrots, No Sticks (Hint: Don’t use sticks)
Teachers have a lot on their plate. Like, a lot. A lot a lot. We all know this, yet they still get more placed on their plate each year. And it’s tough! So, when brand new technology is rolled out, it can be very hard for them to think about adding it into their daily or weekly flow, even if the data behind the technology shows meaningful progress for students.

People (not just teachers, but everyone) need a reason to change their flow. There needs to be either an incentive (a carrot) for using or a consequence (a stick) for not using the application. We’re a much bigger fan of carrots than sticks here at BookNook – just look at our game Feed the Animals – where you have to feed the rabbit carrots.

One of the things that we do is contests – they’re relatively easy to run, but they’re focused on getting teachers to read with their kids. We love those kinds of contests. Building and District leadership can do this too – for example, setting the culture of using 2 minutes at the beginning of staff meetings to recognize teachers who are implementing new programs well. Give out a few gift cards for the best users. Celebrate them! They’re helping students out anyways, so they should be celebrated! And these don’t have to be expensive. But a little appreciation and public complimenting can go a long way.

Lack of Teacher Buy In
This is probably the most “well, duh” issue, but it’s often still overlooked. If teachers aren’t bought in that this will help their day, or help their students, then they are not going to implement technology. We find this is one of the largest misses by School Administration in getting teachers to use the software that you’ve just purchased for your school.

The best way to combat this is to start early. Tell your teachers that you’re going to try something early on. If it’s going to be live in the new year, let them know before they go away for the summer. If you’re starting after winter break, let them know the change is coming in November. Get everything ready early so that you can ease teachers into the new software.

But don’t stop there! You have to show the benefits. Get as much material from the company producing the software (they should have this for you) and show your teachers what the data shows, why they should be using the software, how it will make their life and/or day easier or benefit your students.

Finally, you should find one champion within your staff to be the person to lead on the new technology. We find that one teacher who can talk about the benefits of new technology among their peers goes a long way inside the building.  They can be an internal promoter for your other teachers, and show how they’re using the technology to their and/or their students’ benefits. Finding this person early is going to be key, because you’ll have to sell them on being the advocate and also showing them the benefits of using this awesome new technology.

Finding Success
Look for people who are supposed to help you find success with any company that you choose to buy technology from. Ask hard questions about the support you will receive and how much engagement you get with the company after you’ve made the purchase. Here’s a list of example questions that you should ask while you’re purchasing technology about how you’ll be supported in implementing this technology:

  • How do you support me in making sure there is adoption across my staff?
  • How long is the training for my staff and do you have retrainings?
  • What kind of support do you provide for technical issues?
  • How do you recommend we track success with your product?

Making sure that technology has gone through IT, has promoters within your staff, and has a culture of being incentivized are all ways to make sure that technology is implemented in your school and ensure that you get the maximum return on investment in your purchase.

So my question is, for a non-teacher, how did I do?