They closed the sound-proof doors to recite poetry, recount stories, and record the first pages of a new audio book, designed to help thousands overcome the challenges of reading from the pages of typical books as we know them.
“At night I dream while the moon and the planets are awake,” said fifth grader Tara Banerjee-McDonald, her poem describing a quiet night of iridescent starlight. “Will you dream with me?”
Her work is now part of an anthology of prose called, “The Siena School Project: Here to be Heard.” For young students with dyslexia, literature is more often read now with words illuminated on a screen. Speeds are changed to suit each reader’s needs, as they scan the text on tablets or desktops.
Words once narrated by cold and impersonal voices are now given a decidedly more human quality, a main objective for the 30 Siena School students who crowded into a D.C. recording studio Tuesday.
The Silver Spring school caters to college-bound students who have mild to moderate reading disabilities. The new audio book will available to a quarter million students nation-wide, who are now learning to overcome blindness and dyslexia.
“I felt really proud that I would be able to record myself,” Banerjee-McDonald said, as she pushed open the heavy door of a sound booth. “I feel like if I help out the kids, they will be able to read and maybe they could do this when they get older.”
The Silver Spring students teamed up with Learning Ally (LA), a non-profit organization that owns 11 recording studios throughout the country. After LA records the content, the finished product is stored in a cloud-based library of more than 82,000 audio books, the largest of its kind in the world.
“Comprehension isn’t the problem, all of the students here understand the words in these books,” said Reed Dewey, director of Learning Ally in Washington. “It’s decoding the words they see in print, and what we’re doing here, helps them to decode.”
Schools and families subscribe to LA’s services, and can download the books to smartphones or their computers. Volunteers monitor the recording software on the other side of sound-proof glass, directing students to slow down, repeat phrases, and of course, speak with courage and conviction.
“We love our volunteers, some of whom have been with us for decades,” Dewey said. “We always need more, and anyone can always step in to help.”
After experiencing frustration with reading, Siena’s students have said new audiobooks provide another tool to move past otherwise obstinate challenges.
“If I ever get frustrated with a word, I like it when the books read it to me,” Banerjee-McDonald said. “I hope some girl or boy will feel the same way when my voice reads my words, and then, they understand.”
To volunteer with Learning Ally’s Washington recording studio, visit their website, or call (202) 244-8990.