Meet Benetech’s Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Caswell!
Benetech presents, Sarah Caswell, Benetech’s Outreach Coordinator based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sarah has a keen passion for accessible literacy and equity in education. We are happy to have her as part of the Benetech and Bookshare team. Please read below to learn more about Sarah, and the wonderful work she is doing in New Mexico and surrounding areas to further equity in education. This is part of an ongoing series to introduce the Benetech Community to the regional Outreach Coordinators, who work with urban and rural school districts and communities to ensure teachers and students know about and can effectively utilize the Bookshare platform.
What career path or passion brought you to Benetech?
Prior to working for Benetech, I spent six years with the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Early Childhood Program. I had the esteemed pleasure of working with students who faced multiple reading barriers, which sparked my passion for adapted and accessible literacy.
How has attending local conferences impacted your outreach experience?
In my time as an outreach coordinator, I have attended conferences held by the New Mexico Commission for the Blind and EPICS: A Community Parent Resource Center serving New Mexico families, who have Native American children with disabilities or developmental delays. Being at those conferences gave me a chance to connect with these communities on a more personal level. It helped to expand my outreach network and allowed me to build meaningful relationships with community members.
What motivates you to bring Bookshare to Native American – First Nations schools?
As my mother was from the Seneca Nation of New York, growing up, the need for cultural awareness and representation was always in our fore front. With my educational background being in sociology, I take every opportunity to include my culture in my work. With the knowledge of past inequities and hardships shared by all North Americas Indigenous populations, I felt it was a clear next step for me to focus on bringing accessible literacy to tribal schools.
What do you believe is the greatest barrier to accessible content for students?
In terms of content, I feel there is an overall lack in representation of marginalized populations in popular culture. This leaves us with a limited content pool, creating a barrier within itself. When looking at the means of gaining access to this content, I think the greatest barrier is simple awareness of services. The lack in general representation has led to a sense of ignorance in services available to individuals with barriers, like Bookshare.
What does the learning landscape in New Mexico look like right now?
New Mexico, like many other areas, is working to recuperate learning loss due to the pandemic. Returning to the classroom after years of distance learning has given us a unique opportunity of an almost clean slate. As an outreach coordinator, I have seen more educators working to incorporate virtual tools into their classrooms and curriculum, as they had to use them through various shutdowns. With this, I have had the opportunity to reintroduce and strengthen Bookshare use in many schools and districts.
How do you think a technology platform like Bookshare can best help students develop a love of lifelong learning?
In my experience as an educator and literacy advocate, I have seen the initial spark and excitement of a child learning something new! That spark and excitement can last forever when given the opportunity– and that’s exactly what technology platforms like Bookshare do, they allow for lifelong opportunity.
Can you share an example of how you have seen Bookshare inspire and help a student or teacher?
I attended assistive technology day at an Albuquerque charter school, whose student mission is based around dyslexia. This is the day where they have perspective families come in and get a feel for the school and its services. I had a table set up in representation of Bookshare. A current middle school student volunteer excitably came over to talk to me about Bookshare. She appreciates being able to have every book she had ever wanted at her fingertips! She spoke to me as if I had personally provided this endless library to her, and she thanked me over and over. It was such a genuine experience; I will always hold her excitement with me.
What advice do you have for teachers who aren’t sure how to get started with Bookshare?
My best advice for teachers on how to get started with Bookshare is to reach out. The Bookshare website makes it very easy to sign up and our social medias have book recommendations and tips! Also, most school districts have resource teams available to go through the set-up process with you. I work closely with both my state’s Universal Design for Learning team, and my local public-school districts UDL team. The path to providing equitable education to your students is imperative to their success. Bookshare can be that first step.
Are you an educator in Albuquerque, New Mexico? You can reach Sarah at [email protected].