Benetech is building a model for national social change to close learning gaps at the intersection of education, racial justice, and disability rights. It is estimated that as much as 20% of the national student population has a learning difference. A holistic and inclusive approach could improve outcomes for millions of students across the country. The largest community we address are those with learning differences, more specifically dyslexia making up over 80% of the students we serve today. We also serve people who are blind or visually impaired, and people who have a physical disability that prevents them from holding a book.
We are focusing our domestic education efforts on education equity, more specifically at the intersection of racial justice and education/learning differences in underserved districts and communities that continue to face systemic racial barriers and experienced profound learning setbacks due to the pandemic. Some of those cities include Detroit, Memphis, Atlanta, Albuquerque and Las Vegas.
New Mexico, like many other areas, is working to address learning losses due to the pandemic. Returning to the classroom after years of distance learning has given us an opportunity to start over with a clean slate. Benetech Outreach Coordinator in New Mexico, Sarah Caswell, has seen more educators working to incorporate virtual tools into their classrooms and curriculum, as they had to use them through various shutdowns. With this, we have reintroduced and strengthened Bookshare use in many schools and districts.
“Schools in Atlanta have an average ranking of 4/10, which is in the bottom 50% of Georgia public schools” (publicschoolreview.com). For the Benetech Outreach Coordinator in Atlanta, Georgia, Marcus Green, this means our students need additional help including both internal and external support and tools; There is a lot of work to be done to help our students. As an educator for over 20 years, Marcus can say that students who are not able to read will have academic, emotional and social issues if not remedied. The services that Benetech’s Bookshare platform offers, helps level the playing field for our with disabilities, and gives them the opportunity to raise the bar on their academic aspirations, improve their current capabilities, and succeed both at school and in life.
As a Clark County School District (CCSD)’s Assistive Technology Specialist, Magaly Gonzalez, Benetech Outreach Coordinator in Clark County, Nevada, recognized the diverse needs in special education. This team is constantly looking for the best technology to help advocate for and accommodate students who need access to general content equitably. Technology has allowed us to make great strides in providing different formats to access content; the greatest barrier with students is access to that content in a format that works for their needs. Even in educational settings, there is a struggle to access general print materials. During the Covid pandemic, CCSD was able to provide one to one technology to each student to help overcome this barrier. Now teachers are learning how to adapt their teaching approach and enable student learning through utilizing technology and web-based platforms. With the immense resources available, it becomes hard to discern what is appropriate and the best for each students’ personalized learning path.
Benetech’s program in the Motor City supports students within the classroom with the Detroit Public Schools’ Exceptional Students Education team and we are cultivating relationships with charter schools. Beyond the classroom, the Black United Fund of Michigan, which runs a STEM Summer Academy and provides after-school literacy support for students of color; literacy champion 313Reads; and youth development leader Downtown Boxing Gym have welcomed initial collaboration for targeted supports to children with learning differences. Like many urban districts, Detroit Public Schools Community District is challenged with low test scores, and many schools are underperforming 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. With the help of the Benetech Outreach Coordinator in Detroit Michigan, Nancy Brown, 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 with over 30 years experience as an educator, Nancy is honored to be a part of the effort.
Memphis, Tennessee has a beacon of light for its learning landscape. In Memphis, students are making progress based on Tennessee State Assessments data presented at the end of the 22/23 school year and are progressing to pre-pandemic levels of academic achievement. While we are experiencing some growth, we are also seeing more students in grades K-3 who need academic support in foundational reading and who exhibit signs of dyslexia. As a school district and the State of Tennessee we are being more deliberate about how to support teachers and students in the areas of reading by providing extensive professional development for all teachers in the Science of Reading, free tutoring support for students, a focused curriculum, and educational resources for parents and students at home.
“By utilizing a technology platform such as Bookshare, students will have access to resources that will allow them to engage in learning. It provides them with a platform that caters to their unique learning abilities and empowers them to become active learners and readers.” – Lakita Herring, Benetech Outreach Coordinator in Memphis, TN.