Interview with Nancy Brown, Detroit Outreach Coordinator for BookshareBy Julianna Wright, posted on January 6, 2022
It is my pleasure to introduce Detroit Outreach Coordinator, Nancy Brown. Nancy attended Detroit Public Schools as a child and spent a fruitful career teaching in Detroit for over 15 years, and she coordinated the Assistive Technology Program in Detroit, Southfield, and Ann Arbor Public Schools for over 20 years. Today, we are lucky to have her working to increase Bookshare access in the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to Benetech.
I began my professional career over 30 years ago as a teacher of the blind and visually impaired in the Detroit Public Schools. That’s when I first became familiar with Bookshare and its value as a resource for my students. I was able to see firsthand how Bookshare removed reading barriers and opened the world of literature to my students. Later, in my career as an assistive technology coordinator for Detroit, Southfield and Ann Arbor Public Schools, I once again had the opportunity to promote Bookshare to staff, students and families.
I retired from Detroit Public Schools after a rich and rewarding career in education, so I consider it a great opportunity to work for Benetech as the Detroit Outreach Coordinator for Bookshare. I believe in the truths that Benetech espouses and hope to add value to their mission to create a positive social impact for the Detroit community.
What are some of the strengths of the Detroit education community?
It doesn’t always come across in the media, but Detroit is a close-knit community when it comes to supporting our children. We have many people who have committed to working at the grassroots level — teaching staff, parent volunteers, consultants – and that has always been a strength. With that network, we can make a positive impact on quite a few children.
Parents can find programs for their children after school, during summer, and on weekends, as well as support for getting access to broadband internet. So many individuals go above and beyond to assist kids personally and academically.
What are some of the barriers to literacy that students in Detroit face?
Like many urban districts, Detroit Public Schools Community District is challenged with low test scores, and many schools are under-performing schools where the poverty rate is over 35%. And even though there have been significant academic gains, far too many students still lack resources, including access to reliable internet at a time when remote learning is a necessity due to Covid-19.
The district is working diligently to provide access to technology for all of its students. Benetech is working faithfully to expand Bookshare’s footprint within Detroit, and I am honored to be a part of the effort.
What opportunity do you see for improving literacy and reading instruction for Detroit students? How does Bookshare factor into that?
A significant number of students in Detroit who are nonproficient in reading on standardized tests are not identified as having a reading disability. We want to make sure that students with reading barriers are properly identified, and if they qualify for Bookshare memberships, they are provided accounts and given the support to put them on a path to improved literacy.
As Detroit Outreach Coordinator, I would like to see students become more independent and empowered to have direct input into their own learning. To that end, I would love to see students building their own Bookshare libraries by adding leisure and high-interest books. This will encourage students to become independent readers and develop a true love for books while improving their literacy skills.
Can you share any student success stories?
I have used Bookshare with many students over the years. But one student’s story really affected me, as much as I know Bookshare affected him. He was a high school student who struggled to read his assignments, and, as a result, the teacher read aloud to him. Students were aware that he struggled to read, and some teased him.
He was embarrassed to have a teacher reading aloud to him, his self-esteem plummeted, his academics suffered, and he ultimately began to act out in class. Fortunately, he was identified with a print disability and set up with a Bookshare account. Within a short period of time, he became more independent, his self-esteem and behavior improved, his academic performance and interest in school changed significantly, and he became quite popular in class. I saw firsthand how Bookshare had a profound impact on improving this young man’s life.
What advice do you have for parents and caregivers whose child struggles with reading?
If your child is struggling with reading, please reach out to your educational and medical professionals to determine whether your child has a reading disability. Bookshare is a resource that is available at no cost for students and can have a profound impact on their academic and personal development.
Are you a teacher or educational specialist based in or around Detroit? Do you want to learn more about how you can work with Nancy and Benetech to help eligible students get access to Bookshare? Contact us today.