Prince George’s County Public Schools & BookNook Announce Community Reading Initiative

Prince George’s County Public Schools & BookNook Announce Community Reading Initiative

Study after study has shown tutoring can make a huge difference for students having a hard time with reading, so BookNook is thrilled to be partnering with Prince George’s County Public Schools to deliver high quality and impactful remote tutoring to at least 4,000 students in grades K-2.

“We know what a difference this will make for students and families. Our summer remote tutoring programs saw students make 6 months of reading skill gains in 6 weeks, and 95% of families rated their experience a 10 out of 10,” says Michael Lombardo, founder and CEO of BookNook.

The buzz has just begun about the new partnership. Read our press release for details as well as a story by student journalist Dorvall Bedford in southern Maryland’s The Enquirer-Gazette.

The school district has wasted no time in kicking off the initiative, aptly named PGCPS READS. Regional community, non-profit and civic organizations have already mobilized to support PGCPS students, recruiting adult volunteers to serve as reading guides for young readers. Volunteers will spend 1-3 hours per week reading virtually to their students through the end of the school year. Access for all learners is key, with 800 different texts in English and Spanish available. BookNook provides students with instruction in basic skills, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. Reports of student progress are also measured after each lesson. Families within Prince George’s County Public Schools can sign up for remote reading tutoring here.

PGCPS READS is a model initiative that BookNook is determined to bring to districts and schools across the country, teaming up with educators and education leaders to make a real and measurable difference for all students.

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 like PGCPS READS:                         
Aaron Waters

An Educator’s insight on how to handle teaching from home

An Educator’s insight on how to handle teaching from home

Check out BookNook – an reading application that Teachers and Paras are using to read with their students remotely – offered at no cost during the COVID-19 Shutdowns

I grew up wanting to be a teacher. At an early age, I played ‘school’ with my chalkboard easel and ‘graded’ papers my brothers scribbled on. I wanted to be a teacher; I never had a backup plan. Fast forward to graduating from a prestigious education program, I finally was a teacher. I experienced it all. I taught all grade levels, K-12. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and the real ugly.  I have so many stories I could probably write a book.

Years into my teaching career, I had to take a step back from the classroom due to my son’s mild health complications. I still wanted to somehow be a part of the ‘education world’ but needed more flexibility than what the classroom could provide. What seemed like a forever job search, I stumbled upon working remotely for an edtech startup.  I was apprehensive and uncertain what this would entail; including working remotely. 

Teachers like routine. 

Teachers like structure. 

I wasn’t sure how well I’d do in a work-from-home environment. But, I took the time that I needed to plan and lay out how my work-from-home life would be. This was a luxury that teachers who are now thrust into a remote situation do not have. I was able to prepare as much as I could. There was no warning for what educators are currently experiencing which makes it ten times more complex. There are so many unanswered questions that are overwhelming for all; from the superintendent down to the students. As a professional ‘overplanner’ and ‘worrier’, it is tough even for me to take this advice but we have to do our best to take it one day at a time.

Here are a few tips I’d suggest to all my educator friends struggling with finding their balance working remotely during the COVID-19 school closures:

  • Communicate. One of the biggest complaints from  remote workers is lack of communication.  Now more than ever, it is important to communicate with students and their families.  Make sure messages are clear and precise. We don’t want to bombard but want to be effective. Don’t forget to communicate often with your coworkers. Having remote meetings and check-ins can help with the loneliness of being at home. It is okay to say, “I want to make sure I’m understanding this..” when receiving messages and always ask questions if things are unclear. If you are set up for success, your students will be too.  
  • Stay Organized. Working remotely has its organizational challenges; especially when most educators were thrusted into the unknown of teaching from home. Create your own workspace (not just the dining room table). Create folders in your email to keep track of items and use learning tools provided by your district (if applicable). Build out your day to day schedule and share with students/families.  Leave time for ‘office hours’ or ‘connect hour’ for students/families to meet with you if they have questions or concerns. Keep a list of things you need to get done. (I use sticky notes..lots and lots of sticky notes!)
  • Keep routine and keep it simple. Depending on your school, build out your calendar (or even your very own bell schedule by setting a timer on your phone).  By providing the structure of a ‘normal’ school day, it will help students get back into routine. Keep tasks to students simple and give clear instructions.  Don’t give them ‘independent, busy work’ or tasks that are too difficult for them with limited tools at home. 
  • Remain Positive and Focus on wellbeing of all. I am a huge proponent of social emotional learning not just for students but for adults as well. It is crucial during these times to make sure you are scheduling time to take care of yourself.  There is no commute to work (bright side!) so take that time to go for a walk, treat yourself to that ‘social distancing snack’.  It is unbelievably challenging to remain optimistic (I mean it is a pandemic for crying out loud) but students will pick up on your spirit; even over a Zoom call! Take care of yourself so you can continue to take care of your students!

Maslow before Bloom has been happening all over as most school districts prepare to shift gears back toward learning. These tough times will pass but in the meantime, do your best to create a remote learning environment that includes flexibility, responsiveness, and compassion. And when you do return to those familiar hallways and empty classrooms; you’ll be even more prepared to take on any obstacle that gets in your way; all while settling back into your routine.

Hannah Imoru is a former K-12 educator with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. She also has a certificate in Social Emotional Learning. Hannah currently serves on the Partnerships team at BookNook; an edtech platform reinventing small group literacy learning.

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

Lessons from adopting a new Curriculum

Lessons from adopting a new Curriculum

Curriculum adoption is one of the most important processes that a School District goes through.  The process is lengthy, costly and does not happen often, yet it directly affects the teaching and learning of everyone in the District.  While it is mandated by the state for every classroom to have adopted curriculum, implementation and buy in from the teachers can make or break usage.  It is vital that the process that districts go through is thorough, research based and is supported by stakeholders.

My work in education has primarily been as a teacher in a two-school school district.  While there wasn’t a single curriculum director like bigger districts have, there was a lot of opportunity for teachers to be leaders, so I jumped at the opportunity to lead the curriculum adoption for a new Math curriculum in my district, which I loved 

How did it Work
Our process began as a whole staff.  We brainstormed what key components we as teachers wanted in curriculum.  We also looked at strengths and needs for our students based on our state assessments.  We studied where our students excelled and where we needed more support in helping them learn concepts.

In our little two-school district we had 6-8 teachers per grade level.  Each grade level selected two teachers to serve on our adoption committee.  We are lucky that in California, the process for selecting state-approved curriculum is rigorous.  Only programs that meet several key guidelines are selected to be considered “approved” and are allowed to be adopted by districts.  Additionally, the state sets guidelines for adoption, purchase and implementation. This gave us a framework to develop our timelines.

Our committee reps took the guidelines that we as a staff had developed and attended the County Adoption Fair.  This is when representatives from each publishing company shows off their curriculum. As a committee, we narrowed our pilot choices down to two different curriculums.  The curriculums selected were very different from each other. One was more of a traditional sequence while the other spiraled and challenged students to deeper thinking.

As a committee we developed an evaluation instrument to use as teachers moved through the programs.  This included evaluating the curriculum, assessments, getting student feedback and getting parent feedback.  We also looked at how the curriculum supported special populations, re-taught and extended standards and provided different modes for learning.  We really tried to look at the program as a whole and how it fit in with the needs that our staff identified at the beginning of the process.

Each teacher piloted the programs for 4-6 weeks.  Our intent was for each teacher to implement two different chapters from each program so they could see how the curriculum developed over time and give feedback on more than one standard area. This was also great for getting buy-in from the teachers – they were able to use the curriculum in the wild and feel like they were a part of the process.

After two months of piloting, we came back together as a committee to evaluate the programs.  We used a post-it chart where positives about each program were displayed in different colors.  After the reflection process, it was clear by looking at the colors displayed on the charts which program stood out for our staff as the program our district wanted to implement.  We presented our findings to the Board of Education. Upon their approval, the curriculum was adopted and the materials were ordered. Teachers would implement the program the following school year.

The adoption process we went through involved multiple stakeholders (administration, teachers, students and parents).  It involved using an evaluation tool to help process the positives and negatives of each program. Our process was done over time in a deliberate and paced fashion.  Most importantly, our process was based on the specific needs of our students in our district.  

What did I learn
In reflecting on the process that we followed in adopting our math curriculum, two key components stand out as “take-aways”…Include stakeholders and take time in the process.

It is imperative to include all stakeholders, including students and parents.  It is easy to focus on the feedback from classroom teachers, but there are others that may offer a different perspective.  Getting feedback from special education teachers, art teachers, paraprofessionals and other specialists will allow for the curriculum to be looked at through other lenses.  Additionally, parents and students are essential in the process, as they are the ones directly working with the curriculum.

Time.  There is never enough time.  Schools are maxed out on time.  However, time is what is needed in a curriculum adoption. It is one of the biggest decisions made by districts and it directly affects every single person within a district.  Taking the time to develop a process, implement the curriculum and reflect on the curriculum is needed in order to make a sound and educated decision. Don’t rush the process.  Start the process early in the adoption cycle so you can ensure that there is plenty of time to evaluate the curriculum.

Curriculum is the cornerstone of teaching and learning.  The process should be meaningful and intentional. It should also be fun!  As a district we learned a lot about how our teachers teach. We also learned a lot about how our students learn and what they need, because, ultimately, the students’ needs are at the center of any adoption!  

Megan Cusimano is a former teacher in the Bay Area. She also writes curriculum for BookNook