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Interview with Mychal Winters, Outreach Coordinator for Memphis, Tennessee

I am pleased to introduce Mychal Winters, Benetech’s Memphis Outreach Coordinator. Mychal is a published author, literacy consultant, and educator in Memphis and Shelby County. Today, we are thrilled to welcome him to the Benetech and Bookshare team.

Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to Benetech.

Developing young minds to help them grow and achieve is very rewarding. I’ve been working in education for ten years. I started as a first-grade teaching assistant in my hometown, Vicksburg, Mississippi. I earned my credentials and became a fifth-grade language arts teacher. This is when I began serving scholars with exceptional needs. Soon after that, I moved to Memphis and began working in Shelby County.

Currently, I am an academic coach at Leadership Prep Charter School in Memphis. I oversee the social studies department and coach teachers to serve scholars with and without exceptional needs. This year, I also published my first book, a social and emotional learning curriculum called You Deserve It. Having done previous consulting work on literacy in Memphis, I was excited to have the opportunity to join Benetech and Bookshare and make an impact in Memphis and Shelby County.

What are some of the major concerns for Memphis teachers right now?

Shelby County Schools serve almost 100% inner-city students. Right now, we are trying to push literacy and make up for learning loss. The previous school year was hybrid, and attendance was inconsistent, so we are addressing those gaps to get our scholars where they need to be to achieve in the classroom.

Social and emotional learning is even more important. We do not know what the scholars may have endured while they were home for an extended time. They may have lost family members. They may not have had adequate resources. Now that we have them in a stable place, we want to attend to their social and emotional needs.

What are some of the opportunities that you see to improve student literacy in Memphis?

We are pushing students to be college and career-ready, which requires a certain level of reading proficiency. Our scholars need to know how to read and process information to be successful. More so, they need to know how to communicate. That comes from literacy.

Scholars struggling with reading have a plethora of options available to them. We have teachers pushing in, such as special educators and enrichment teachers. There are also district level programs that assist them. Finally, we provide accommodations to ensure that they have the same access to high quality texts and rigorous curriculum programs as well.

While students with exceptional needs may have support staff in some subject areas, they may not have them in all classes, especially outside of core subjects. For example, students may get a support teacher in English, but they will not get it in social studies because it is not a core subject. When students do not have individual support staff to help them, it is important to ensure that they are still able to participate and learn. I see Bookshare as a tool to enable that learning.

I also love that Bookshare gives scholars an opportunity to be independent learners. I encourage students to engage in a ‘productive struggle,’ which builds their confidence. I allow them to come to their own conclusions, based upon their own abilities, and develop their strengths and independence. With Bookshare, they can download books and listen to them at their leisure, whether in class or at home. Bookshare books are a resource to strengthen their understanding and knowledge of print. The dynamic formats allow them to listen, conceptualize, and understand the reading better.

Can you share an example of how literacy interventions helped a student?

This past school year, I had a sixth-grade scholar who was still working on letter sounds. We worked with her, and by the end of the school year, she had moved on to a new skill. This school year, she has improved by leaps and bounds. Her understanding is deepening, and her overall GPA has increased. She is now much closer to being on grade level, and her confidence has grown as well. She now volunteers to read passages in class. She raises her hand to answer questions and gets them right. She likes to lead and facilitate conversations in group projects. I’m so proud of her progress over the course of the year.

What advice do you have for parents of children who struggle with reading?

Expose them to various types of print, choose topics that they are invested in, and introduce them to a variety of perspectives. They should be in a print-rich environment at school and as much as possible at home. Try to have your scholars see you reading at home, whether a newspaper, magazine, or novel. When scholars see parents reading, they begin to value reading more, and it will become a consistent habit for them.

Are you a teacher or educational specialist based in or around Memphis? Do you want to learn more about how you can work with Mychal and Benetech to help eligible students get access to Bookshare? Contact us today.

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