Orange County Schools Announces Reading Tutoring Initiative In Partnership With BookNook

Orange County Schools Announces Reading Tutoring Initiative In Partnership With BookNook

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C.March 8, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Orange County Public Schools (OCS) today announced a new effort to support students with their reading development through a large-scale tutoring program targeting over 1,000 K-8 students across the district.

Students will be tutored in small groups, three times per week beginning in early April and running through the end of June. Instruction will take place via Zoom both at home and at school, depending on individual student circumstances. Students identified by a teacher as needing additional reading support will be prioritized for enrollment.

“If your child doesn’t like to read, struggles to read, or needs to read more, then BookNook is for you,” said Dr. Monique Felder, Superintendent. “Reading is the foundation for all learning and OCS is committed to ensuring that every student has what they need to become a confident lifelong reader.”

To operate the program, OCS will partner with BookNook, the nation’s largest provider of remote reading instruction capacity for schools and nonprofits. Through its patented synchronous instruction platform for PreK-8 reading and nationwide network of vetted tutors, BookNook is able to provide an online tool perfectly suited to the needs of students for live, impactful teaching.

“Now is the time when students need the personalized touch that only real, human teaching can provide,” said Michael Lombardo, Founder and CEO of BookNook. “We are excited to see districts like OCS stepping up to meet this moment and finding innovative ways to address the opportunity gap that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

About OCS

Orange County Schools educates more than 7,200 students in 13 schools. We are proud of and embrace the diversity of our students and families:

  • 52% White
  • 26% Hispanic
  • 14% Black
  • 7% Multi-Racial
  • 1% Asian

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 35 states. It has received national recognition for its impact on students’ reading growth and its unique equity-based pricing model.

Contact: Melany Stowe
(919) 732-8126 ext. 10006 |

SOURCE BookNook Learning

Urban League Launches a Literacy Program For MNPS Students

Urban League Launches a Literacy Program For MNPS Students

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Kimberly Lannear

March 1, 2021 Community Engagement and Outreach Manager


NASHVILLE, TN—Urban League of Middle Tennessee, in partnership with the web-based application BookNook, has launched a free literary initiative for kindergarten through third-grade students enrolled in three Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. The Read and Rise Literacy program provides one-hour virtual tutoring for children who attend Schwab, Amqui, and Warner Elementary Schools. A parent or caretaker can accompany children during the one-on-one session with an adult volunteer, who will teach phonics, reading comprehension and offer interactive reading games. The program also provides social emotional learning. 

“ULMT recognized that Read and Rise would not only be impactful in changing the lives within underserved communities, but it was also fiscally-sound and sustainable. BookNook has proven to be effective across the country,” said ULMT CEO Clifton Harris. “The tutor and student relationship dynamic unlocks the possibility of what children can be and allows them to envision what they can have with someone who looks like them. The child’s family can be involved. Also, it allows the volunteer to give back.” 

Read and Rise will run from March 1 through April 30. Individuals who are interested in volunteering may visit

About the National Urban League and Urban League of Middle Tennessee 

Established in 1910, The National Urban League is the nation’s oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream. Today, the National Urban League, headquartered in New York City, spearheads the non-partisan efforts of its local affiliates. Over 90 local affiliates of the National Urban League located in 36 states and the District of Columbia providing direct services to more than 2 million people nationwide through programs, advocacy, and research.

The Urban League of Middle Tennessee was chartered on April 15, 1968, by a group of diverse business and community leaders to “Carry on social service programs improving the economic welfare of Negroes.” In 2008, ULMT celebrated 52 years of Empowering Nashville and Middle Tennessee Communities and has built a strong reputation for connecting job seekers and employers together for success. Since 2004, ULMT has added up to 12 million dollars back into the Nashville economy due to successes in connecting clients with employers. 

The Urban League of Middle Tennessee’s mission is to enable African Americans, other minorities, and disenfranchised groups to secure economic self-reliance, power, parity, and civil rights. Efforts focused on the following areas: Economic Empowerment – which includes workforce development, jobs, housing, and entrepreneurship; Youth & Education services focused on ensuring academic competence while preparing our young people for life, leadership and success within a global economy; Health & Quality of Life for all and particularly for the least of our citizens; Civic Engagement and empowering communities through participation in the political process; and Civil Rights and Racial Justice. 

Whitney M. Young Jr. best articulated the Urban League’s need during his tenure as executive director from 1961 – 1971. He stated, “As this country sinks deeper into polarization and bitterness, the need for the Urban League’s role as a bridge between the races and as a problem-solver and a hope-giver becomes more crucial.”  

A Tale of Two Teachers

A Tale of Two Teachers

A Tale of Two Teachers: Meet the high school friends turned educators who devised a way to watch students learn in real-time, and are now part of the BookNook family.

A 9:00 pm truck stop in Seymour, Indiana isn’t the first place one would imagine as the birthplace of a transformative idea in education. But that’s exactly where Ryan Culbreth, middle school Language Arts teacher and co-founder of ReadEngage, found himself, pulled over late one evening in 2013, talking through the data sequence for a digital platform to help teachers watch how to help struggling readers in real time. 

Ryan Culbreth and Clay Schepman, co-founders of ReadEngage

On the other end of the line was Clay Schepman, Social Studies teacher and co-founder of ReadEngage. Ryan and Clay met as teens when their mothers, both kindergarten teachers, carpooled to work together and eventually introduced their sons to each other. Fast forward, the two shared typical high school antics, earned teaching and Master’s degrees as college roommates, and eventually started families. But as educators, Ryan and Clay found themselves feeling something a lot of their fellow teachers felt – powerless. They had great confidence in their power to inspire and create a student’s interest in learning, but the power faded instantly once a student was on their own outside of the classroom. “I could teach reading strategies, but as soon my students had a book in their hands it was like I lost all power,“ said Ryan, “They were on their own to read and if they had any trouble, it was impossible to pinpoint where they were struggling or how I could set an instructional course to help them improve.”

What kept Clay and Ryan awake at night was an instructional gap amplified by the monumental shift to Common Core state standards which entailed teaching to benchmark and end-of-year summative assessments. Literacy featured greatly with the standards, but what Common Core lacked was a structure for formative assessment – a way to monitor student learning by providing ongoing feedback on how teachers should make adjustments to improve their teaching, which in turn would improve a student’s ability to learn. “It’s like being data rich, but information poor. Testing may provide a warehouse of data, but teachers can’t really see where the problem is,“ noted Ryan, “We wanted to invent a way to code-ify formative assessment, to keep building the skills that good readers do, naturally.”

So, the two teachers set out to build something based on a genuine need in their classrooms and a desire to create a scalable formative assessment tool as a key driver to both better teaching and better learning. But where to start for two data geeks who had never pitched anything before? The answer was a 10-hour drive to a tech startup weekend event in Washington D.C. There they met the team at NotionTheory, who specialized in designing software for minimum viable products (MVPs), which is tech-talk for products that have just enough features to test out with a small set of users to validate further investment and development.  

Over the course of two years, the ReadEngage platform was created with necessary patents in place and was now pilot-ready. The technology involves a text-based, dynamic, in-process visualization of student and group engagement that provides immediate evidence of student proficiency to inform instructional decisions. A quick 3-minute video demonstrates how the platform works. 

Avoiding any conflict of interest with introducing a new curriculum within their own school district, the initial pilot was taken to two classrooms at nearby Scottsburg Middle School. Clay took a day off to run the demonstration and the initial reaction was promising. Teachers commented about the “immediate real time feedback”, “ease of use and user-friendly colors”, plus “ability to share exercises with other teachers as a great tool for collaboration.”

Images courtesy of the Indiana Migrant Education Program (IMEP)

But the real test came the summer of 2016, when ReadEngage was awarded an eight-week grant to pilot their literacy platform with one of the most disenfranchised communities in the country – migrant farm workers. Funded through the Indiana Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program (IMEP), 1,200 children of farm-working families received daily literacy lessons directly from Ryan and Clay among other teachers, all there to provide standards-based curriculum at every needed grade level. The educators dedicated themselves to helping migratory children overcome educational disruption brought on by moving state to state for seasonal farm work. “Every day, our big RV would pull up right onto the tomato fields for Red Gold Ketchup,” described Ryan, “And all the kids would run to us, eager to start their lessons. We were so amazed because the middle and high schoolers spent a full day in the fields before beginning another full day of learning with us.”  

Images courtesy of the Indiana Migrant Education Program (IMEP)

The Indiana DOE equipped each participating student with an i-Pad which traveled with them as their families moved from Indiana, to Texas, to Florida for more farm work, returning to Indiana at the end of the season. According to Clay and Ryan, the families (who represent a diverse set of cultures, from Burmese to Latino) returned their borrowed devices in good condition and with much gratitude. Today, Ryan continues to work with the IMEP as a Language Arts consultant, and both count their work with migrant families as among the most rewarding experiences of their careers.

“We felt this was a real game-changer for literacy,” said Ryan, “We’re not just checking a box with assessments. This is true, formative assessment – talking with a student, especially those learning under extraordinarily difficult conditions, about where are you now, where did you get off track, where do we get you back on track and grow.”

Meeting Michael Lombardo, BookNook CEO, in 2018 was another milestone for Ryan and Clay. Whether it was fate that brought together these like-minded innovators, equally passionate about children’s literacy, or “dumb luck” as Ryan and Clay like to joke about all their good fortunes, the meeting cemented the idea that the pair had come up with truly transformative technology for watching readers learn in real time.

“I also had the great opportunity to work with migrant children while in college during a University of Michigan Alternative Spring Break,” said Michael, “And at our core, Ryan, Clay and I share the same philosophy about the critical need to support the most needy kids, and to address reading skill growth at school, at home, and in the community. By acquiring some of ReadEngage’s intellectual property, we are improving on a world-class tool that’s closing literacy gaps and changing lives.”

Ryan and Clay are proud teacher ambassadors and consultants for BookNook with a vision to help promote live reading interventions across similar state-wide or coalition-fueled initiatives modeled by their experience with the Migrant Education Program. They are also excited to help BookNook expand to a host of other institutions or agencies with equally critical literacy needs, like working with departments of corrections or other marginalized communities. 

We celebrate Ryan Culbreth and Clay Schepman, two high school friends turned educators and tech innovators, and now, members of the BookNook family!