May 17, 2024 by clearymf 0 Comments

Newsletter: May 2024

Quarterly Update

2024 has been chock-full of Readeezy news!

Our biggest announcement is that we have been named finalists in the Tools Competition, an international competition in EdTech innovation. There were over 1,900 entries and we’re one of 30 teams to make it to the finals! This competition is sponsored by some of the biggest names in grant funding: Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Open AI, Schmidt Futures, and many more. Great exposure for Readeezy no matter what the outcome (but keep all your fingers crossed, please, that we win!). 🤞

We’re working on two big innovations to the Readeezy library.

The first is our AI Reading Companion. Taking advantage of the AI revolution, we’re creating a “conversational agent” (as it’s called in AI circles) to dialogue with our readers. The Companion will help them in an “Alexa-like” fashion to understand vocabulary, sentence meaning and plot lines. It will even allow them to express their feelings about a story (e.g. “I feel bad for that boy because he was bullied.”) and the Companion will respond.

The second is a dashboard to record readers’ progress on the Readeezy books. Although this wasn’t part of the original design for our library, we’ve had requests from teachers for progress reports. We’re keeping the dashboard streamlined so there won’t be much data entry to burden teachers, tutors or parents, but there will be enough so they can track data like how many books readers have completed, their performance on the “checks for understanding,” and how many times they accessed the “I’m stuck” button. Later on, the Reading Companion will be able to give us much more information.

We're Growing!

This semester, we had a record number of interns helping us grow our library. Nineteen students from universities all over the country have worked as writers, illustrators and marketing assistants. We already have a waiting list for the summer! This resource will go a long way to helping us meet our goal of 25 books by September, 2024.

Additionally, we have users! West Milford, NJ would like to start Readeezy right away, and we’re waiting news from the following: Learning Resource Centers of NJ (located throughout the state); Montclair Public Library; Parsippany Public School District; Perth Amboy Public School District. More to come!

Our resources also continue to grow. We have received a generous grant from the Steven Strobert Foundation (Dr. Barbara Strobert is on our Board.) This grant is specifically targeted at school districts populated by the poor and the marginalized. We are working with the NJ Center for the Inclusive Classroom to identify districts that fit that criterion. Thank you Dr. Strobert!

Coming Soon: Four New Books

Keep an eye out for these new stories:

Friendship Under Fire by Sarah Nasser. Ruby’s only real friend is Ana, and that’s all right with her until Ana starts a relationship with Marco. Ruby invades Ana’s privacy to find out more and their friendship may end for good.

Rafi and the ELF by Andrew Killeen. This serialized story features Rafi, a high schooler who thought his life was pretty normal until a new student named Ziggy sat next to him in class. It didn’t take Rafi too long to learn that Ziggy isn’t like the rest of his friends and Rafi starts to suspect that something is wrong. Maybe Ziggy is even a criminal! But the truth is even weirder.

Trust NoBody by Kenya Sumter. Isabella is lonely enough to look to the internet for friends. She starts a conversation with someone who seems to understand her problems, but things turn dangerous when he wants to meet her in person!

Saving Grace by Maria Cleary. Grace is a lonely teenager who has always isolated herself because she is subconscious about being overweight. But she takes a chance on herself when she tries out for the soccer team. Will bullies and cruelty stand in the way of her success?

All of this is due to your continuous generosity. Without your support, none of this could happen. We send our most sincere thanks to you and ask that you keep positive thoughts coming Readeezy’s way so we can all continue to be of service to our most needy young readers.

Warmest regards,

Maria

June 13, 2022 by clearymf 0 Comments

Is Our Pain “Worthy?”

I found out this week that my company didn’t receive an award. We worked very hard for it; I even shelled out a substantial amount of money (for me) to produce a video for our submission. It was first-rate and I thought our chances were good – even great. So I fell down from a very high
mountain when we lost.

It was painful. We really could have used the recognition that award would have brought because we are a micro-business that needs exposure. I could have benefitted personally because I work mainly by myself and it would have been a real shot in the arm. But none of this happened and I was left wondering how to handle it.

After the initial disappointment, my next response was to tell myself that other people have much bigger problems than I do. “What about the people in the Ukraine?” I would ask myself. “The families whose children were shot? Those with terminal cancer?” I could go on – and I did.

No matter what happens, I try to convince myself that I really don’t deserve to feel bad or hurt or sad because there are so many who are worse off than I. I was listening to a podcast the other day where a politician who was badly betrayed by his colleagues was explaining his hurt, so
deep that he went into a year-long depression. But then he tried to dismiss it, saying that his problems didn’t compare to those that others in the world were experiencing.

But here’s the thing: he deserved to mourn his trauma because it was HIS, it was real and it was profound. We can’t judge what will send others into a spiral. We can’t compare our pain to theirs and say that they deserve to feel bad and we don’t. Our pain is our pain. And we need to own it and accept that we can grieve it without guilt.

Let’s be honest – having a child with a disability is a great disappointment. Yes, every child is a gift. Yes, our children bring us unanticipated blessings. But a big part of the experience is pain – often pain that we didn’t anticipate. Many of us don’t own that pain completely because we
know we are blessed to have a child at all, that we have had new doors opened to us because of it, that we have grown spiritually and intellectually through this experience.

But it is still pain. We want our children to be like the others. And we want to enjoy what other parents enjoy. So we find ways to cope, and one of them is to “excuse” our pain away. I’d like to propose that this is not healthy for us because it just gives us another reason to beat ourselves up. Yes, we are sad, disappointed, mad, hurt, depressed and a host of other things. And yes, we are allowed to feel that way, despite whatever problems anyone else is having. And we shouldn’t demean it by calling it a “pity-party.” These are genuine feelings and they’re ours.

As an old song says, we’ll eventually “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.” But let’s give ourselves a minute, a week or however long it takes to be sad and know that we’re OK to feel that way.

January 29, 2022 by clearymf 0 Comments

#nolimits

Honored to speak with author and IEP Specialist Shelley Kenow #nolimits about struggling readers and how we can help them to grow and thrive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrCMTxQFG7Y

January 10, 2022 by clearymf 0 Comments

January Blahs

In the best of times, January was always a challenging
month. It’s time to put away all the decorations and there are few holidays
coming up (although most stores insist on bringing out their Valentine’s Day
stock way too early – and husbands still manage to forget about it until Feb.
13!)

During a pandemic, January is especially dreary.
Opportunities to “go out and do something” are limited – first by Omicron and
in many places, by the weather. Here in New Jersey, the temperatures have been
extremely cold and we got enough of a snowstorm to close schools for a day.

It’s Especially Hard for Parents!

For parents, things are also tougher than usual. We can’t
send our younger kids out to play for too long (although they’d probably stay
out in the snow forever!); we want to limit their screen time, so we a day on
social media or watching TV is taboo; exercise is limited so everyone is extra
grumpy, not having a chance to work out our energy during our regular
activities.

So here we sit, trying to make the best out of a less than
perfect situation. Even those parents whose children have returned to school
are still navigating remote classes because of infected classmates or teachers.
And the worry, worry, worry that the virus will invade our homes – sometimes just
too much to handle!

What Can We Do?

I wish I had solutions – or at least ones you hadn’t heard
or read about. They all involve “doing something” and that’s one of the biggest
hurdles January serves up – we don’t want to DO anything! It would be nice if
we could watch Hallmark movies or sports or read a novel to pass the time each
day. But we have kids!

The one thought I can offer is this: let’s be kind to
ourselves. Allow our children a little extra time with the computer or TV; look
the other way at the messy house; pick up a book or watch a movie (even half of
one!) and let everything else pass by. Maybe you can find a movie that you AND
your kids will like and just zone out and enjoy.

And don’t feel alone. Parenting is hard – especially in
January. 

December 14, 2021 by clearymf 0 Comments

A Different Kind of Holiday

OK – last year’s holidays were different for sure. We were isolated, unable to see our family and friends, relegated to food delivered to our doors as we stood masked and gloved, waiting to wash off the virus. We zoomed with everyone, trying to be jolly, but it was hard and we all looked forward to returning to “normalcy.” We assumed that would come in 2021. Well – not quite.

This year, things have certainly improved somewhat. We’re shopping again and seeing our nearest and dearest with more frequency. For those of us with young kids in the family, that’s generally a big plus. HOWEVER (and there’s always a “however” these days!) – if they are too young to be vaccinated, then what? Are we going to infect them with our grocery store germs or are they going to infect us with their day care germs? Too much stress!

In addition to that, those of us with disabled children always have extra challenges around the holidays. Is it too much for them to process? Is the confusion making them harder to handle? What messages can we teach them that are meaningful but not beyond their capacity to understand? What gifts will actually enhance their lives rather than just add more “stuff?” How can we make this season “just enough” so that it is enjoyable?

In a sense, it’s the same set of questions we had when all our kids were little, but many of our “kids” aren’t little anymore. So we have to be respectful of their age and level of maturity without being either patronizing or going over their heads. Challenging!

We have all that, PLUS the real challenge of a bit of a malaise that’s surrounding a “not-quite-normal” holiday this year. I’ve talked to so many people who are having a bit of a challenge getting their Christmas spirit up to snuff. Understandable. We were ready for a regular holiday and we got this. So many of our rituals were postponed yet again – big get-togethers, trips to the Nutcracker or Radio City Music Hall, train rides, even sitting on Santa’s lap.

And we’re awfully tired of “making the best of it.” Yes, we are all incredibly lucky and we need to take deliberate time every day to appreciate what we have. I’m not dismissing that. It’s just that, for some of us, it takes more effort.

Our children with disabilities can, as always, give us good examples. After all these years, I still marvel at how my daughter and her friends find joy in the smallest things – playing Zoom Bingo, laughing at silly jokes, watching Everybody Loves Raymond, hanging holiday lights, teaching the dog a new trick. And the way they support each other is amazing! They cheer each other up when someone is sad or sick; they ask about friends who are having problems; they even send notes and gifts when a person has had a loss. (When our dog passed, I was floored by the compassion of my daughter’s friends!).

So at this “different” holiday time, we have another thing for which to be grateful – the way our disabled children can be role models for us! Let them guide us and it will be easier to “be of good cheer.” Wishing you and your families a blessed and joyful holiday. May the New Year continue to bring us health, safety, joy and gratitude. Happy 2022!

October 13, 2021 by clearymf 0 Comments

Making Friends – Not So Easy!

As our learning disabled children get older, their circle of friends becomes smaller. It’s a bit easier when they’re in school, especially their local school, because they can connect with young people in the neighborhood. But middle school and high school bring their own challenges.

Finding Common Ground

As with all young people, they want to establish friendships with those who have common interests and abilities. Well, that’s not so easy when you have a disability and all your classmates may be “differently- abled” than you. Some may have trouble talking, reading, walking, socializing, even behaving appropriately, and your child might not fit any of those profiles. So the friendship possibilities become smaller.

 Social Isolation

In fact, social isolation is one of the major problems facing learning disabled teens and young adults. Think about it. Most of our older children find friends on their own, at school, on their teams and in clubs and other extracurricular activities. Unless we find these activities for our disabled kids, they won’t be able to have that same advantage. And how much time does it require to find the appropriate social pastime? A lot!

I remember once we took our daughter and her friend to Bingo which was organized by a widely recognized group for the disabled. Our kids were so polite when we asked them afterwards if they enjoyed it. “It was good,” they said, “but everyone was a little – well – old.” Cross that one off the list!

Finding Activities That Fit

Since our daughter has three brothers, she’s grown up with sports all around her, and so Special Olympics has provided a wonderful outlet for her. The best thing about Special Olympics is that you don’t have to have the ability but rather the desire. And a big “COVID silver lining” is that, when they were unable to play because of the quarantine, they started a twice-weekly Zoom group which continues to this day. And there, they play a Bingo game that my daughter and her friend really enjoy!

A Job That Really Pays Dividends

Encouraging social interactions is just another responsibility for special needs parents. Our job isn’t easy but when we succeed at helping our kids make connections, the rewards are great. Let’s keep reaching out to each other for ideas so we can improve our children’s chances for life success. 

September 18, 2021 by clearymf 0 Comments

Our Article in EP Magazine

Readeezy is honored to have our first article published in EP (Exceptional Parent) Magazine! Here’s the link: https://reader.mediawiremobile.com/…/207412/viewer...

September 4, 2021 by clearymf 0 Comments

Back to School 2021 – Yikes!

I always laughed at that old Staples commercial when a parent was dancing down the aisles buying Back to School supplies. Yes, I could identify, especially after having four kids on summer vacation who had worn out their welcome around mid-July.

But as much as I was happy to see them go back, it always drove me a little crazy as a teacher and parent when my kids looked upon that first day with such dread. What a terrible place it must be to evoke such misery! Shouldn’t it be fun, stimulating, interesting, fascinating? A place to engage with their teachers and peers in challenging experiences that inspired them to grow?

School – A Happy Place?

Plenty of teachers try to make their classroom exactly that. And sometimes they succeed. But often, school is a rigorous place with academic demands that have been designed by curriculum experts. What can we do to make those attractive to our students so they look forward to September with glee and anticipation?

This year, it may be especially hard to do this because of COVID restrictions that find many teachers trying to reach their students through the barriers of masks. Extreme caution and even fear will mark the first days of school until we all work things out to our own comfort level – if that’s even possible.

And What About the Special Ed?

 But here’s the kick. As the parent of a disabled child, I always marveled at my daughter’s love of school. She attended almost all year with a short six-week break in the summer, and went willingly and happily to class every day. When I asked her if she had fun, I always got an enthusiastic “yes!” for an answer. There was never any misery in September when she had to go back.

So what can these young people teach us? Is there a joy we’re missing about the whole school experience? Are special ed teachers doing something different? Do special ed students have a wisdom and appreciation of learning and community that we can’t grasp?

It’s Just How They Are

For the most part, this is how disabled kids are every day. They’re accepting, non-judgmental, willing to laugh and have fun, anxious to love and be loved. Their view of the world is simple and they have few expectations. When things turn out great, they’re happy. When they don’t, they’re sad but just for a while until they are consoled and can move on.

Now, it must be said that not all disabled young people are like this. Some present difficulties that are beyond a parent’s or teacher’s ability to handle on a daily basis. That’s why we get help from caregivers, aides and other support professionals. And the challenge of handling those children and teens cannot be understated.

What Can We Learn From Them?

 But is there some lesson we can learn from the disabled who seem to be tolerant, supportive and totally unbiased. They don’t see differences in color, race, age, body type – all the things that often separate the rest of us. My daughter’s Special Olympics team has a range of athletes from 21 to 54, males and females, tall, short, multi-racial, skinny, overweight, shy and boisterous. And they love each other, unconditionally.

I’m still trying to figure out how that works, even after all these years. And I hope I do. It’ll make me a much better person. And if we all did, it might make going back to school a happy experience.  

August 22, 2021 by clearymf 0 Comments

For Our Struggling Adolescent and Teen Readers…

Reading Can Be Fun Again! - Podcast

podcast on making reading fun again ACE