Perspectives on Whole Child Literacy

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California Educator’s Personalized Approach to Learning Earns Him National Recognition

Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, Education & Teaching, Educators, Funding & Awards, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices

Jerry Voelker with Krystle Johnson in the classroom.If you asked struggling learners at Arroyo Vista Charter School in Chula Vista, CA who has done the most to help them develop their reading skills, their answers might surprise you. Of course, many would mention their English teachers, special education teachers and reading specialists. But another person whose name would come up frequently is Jerry Voelker, a credentialed school psychologist and assistive technology specialist.

Helping Students, Helping Teachers

Jerry is one of four recipients of the 2019 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award, a national achievement award created by Learning Ally as a way to recognize educators who make an exceptional effort to motivate and support students with reading deficits. His school district serves a large population of general and special education students, ranging from transitional kindergarteners to eighth graders.

Krystle Johnson, the special education teacher who nominated him for the award, said, “Jerry is an invaluable resource. His unique insight into how students think and feel and his knowledge of assistive technology allow him to help teachers select the right tools and strategies to meet each student’s needs. He is a big reason why so many struggling Arroyo Vista students are now celebrating learning success.”

Early Screening and Intervention is Critical to Long-Term Success

Jerry’s involvement with struggling learners begins with a screening for reading deficits in first grade. At that point, he assesses their learning capabilities and determines which students need reading accommodations to ensure that they receive equitable access to the curriculum. For students who require intervention, he will design IEP programming and 504 plans to help them develop the reading skills they need to master grade-level content and keep pace with their peers. He will also utilize his assistive technology acumen to determine the best resources for each student.  

The Power of Learning Ally

One important tool in his toolkit is the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. This proven reading accommodation, with its library of human-read audiobooks, student-centric features and suite of teacher resources, is an indispensable solution that helps bridge the reading gap by engaging and motivating struggling readers. More than 17,000 schools nationwide rely on Learning Ally to help struggling readers reach their academic potential.

Students with learning differences like dyslexia or physical or visual limitations are required by California law to receive a reading accommodation, and the California State Dyslexia Guidelines list Learning Ally as a recommended reading accommodation by the California Department of Education. 

“Students who once hated reading can’t get enough with Learning Ally,” Jerry said. “The format is more accessible; the selection of books allows them to choose titles they enjoy, and human narrators make the stories more engaging to ensure students understand what they read.”

Making a Difference Every Day

Jerry working with a student in the classroom on a device. At Arroyo Vista Charter School, parents are also big fans of Learning Ally, because students can use it to read independently outside the classroom. “Instead of playing video games or watching TV, these students read books,” said Jerry. “Seeing children reading on their devices is a daily occurrence.” 

Jerry plays a pivotal role in making that possible. He not only ensures that each student has the Learning Ally reading app downloaded on their devices; he assists them in setting their personal preferences, including text-to-speech, font color and size, background colors and reading rate.

Special education teacher, Krystle Johnson appreciates the way Jerry is able to meet students where they are and help them get to where they need to be. She cited this example. “Jerry has supported one of my seventh graders since she first qualified for an IEP in first grade. At that point, her fine motor skills were almost nonexistent. She needed extensive reading, writing and math support. Jerry set her up with an iPad and all the necessary apps, including Learning Ally. Today, she’s an honor student with a 3.5 GPA.”

A True Team Player

As a 2019 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award winner, Jerry earned a monetary award for himself and his school. He is quick to give credit to his colleagues, saying, “It’s a team effort. We all work together to ensure that our students succeed academically and get the support they need to be happy, healthy, engaged learners. I feel very fortunate to be in a position to help make that happen.”

If you know an educator, administrator or U.S. school that is making a difference for students with reading deficits, Learning Ally’s nomination process is now open for the 2020 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Education Award. For more information on Learning Ally, or to request a demo, visit or call 800-221-1098.


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