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Graduating 100 Percent College-Ready Students

Categories: Teacher Best Practices

Donna Barney-DiCianno, Ph.D.Teacher Explains How Learning Ally Helps School Achieve Goal

At Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, a public school for 6-12th grade students in Denver, Colorado, Donna Barney-DiCianno, Ph.D. is a dedicated learning specialist and the chair of the school’s special education department. The school’s innovative programs enhance the curriculum, helping the school create strong readers and writers who are college-ready when they graduate.

“Our mission and goal is that 100 percent of students will graduate college-ready or ready for a post-secondary career,” Dr. Barney-DiCianno explains. “We have a continuum of services so that we can meet the needs of any child who walks through the door.”

Rebecca and AnnaTwo of those students, Rebecca and Anna, have specific learning disabilities outlined in their formal assessments and have been consistently more than two years behind their peers and below grade level for reading fluency and comprehension.

“Teachers didn’t even know these two young ladies were creative and would struggle if they saw them on their roster because they didn’t know how to reach them,” says Dr. Barney-DiCianno.

“But because they can now listen to the text through Learning Ally and respond to the content, we’ve learned that they actually do have the type of reflective skills and insightfulness to participate with the rest of the class – they really do understand and can give feedback about what they are reading. “We’ve found that if the students who struggle with encoding and decoding can hear it, they do a better job of being able to respond to the text. They can participate more in the classroom because they have access to the same information – they’ve heard it,” Dr. Barney-DiCianno clarifies.

“Teachers aren’t as apprehensive when they meet struggling readers now, because they know they have another tool to give the child access.”

The majority of educators at M.L.K. Jr. Early College who use Learning Ally include the language arts staff. After a student who could benefit from Learning Ally is identified, the student is registered for the program.

“The students don’t need me anymore!” declares Dr. Barney-DiCianno. “After I register them, they use their phones or tablets to download their books right away – the Learning Ally Audio app has made it so much more accessible and we don’t have to micro-manage them.”

OmarOmar, a senior, struggled up until he was introduced to Learning Ally three years ago in high school. “I’m so glad the program is here for us – I have dyslexia and it’s very hard for me to read and write," he says. "Other kids struggle, too, and I’m glad the help is here to make high school simpler for them. I really enjoy using it to read textbooks; it’s helped me with everything we’ve been learning.”

“We have a large population of students who have difficulty accessing the curriculum and our goal to graduate 100% of students college-ready can’t be met if the students can’t read,” says Dr. Barney-DiCiano. “Furthermore, it is very difficult to create strong writers if they can’t read. With Learning Ally, our students can listen to examples of good writing and this access to the full curriculum helps us meet our goal – we believe in this program!”

We'd like to convey our congratulations to Dr. Barney-DiCianno, who received the “Special Education” Educator of the Year Award from The Education Center, and thank her for attributing her partnership with Learning Ally in winning this award.

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