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As the COVID-19 pandemic began closing our nation’s schools, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was the recipient of a very persuasive essay from nine Florida students. The five-paragraph essay eloquently outlined how “Audible would help students with learning disabilities, speakers of other languages, and any student whose school is closed because of the pandemic.”
John Kirtley, Step Up For Students Chairman and long-standing TaxWatch Board of Trustees Member, shared with us the determination of these children who are Gardiner scholarship recipients, one of the five programs administered by Step Up. Funded directly by the state, the Gardiner scholarship allows parents to personalize the education of students with special needs by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers.
The students’ essay was emailed on March 13 to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking that Audible books be made available to everyone while schools are closed during the pandemic. It was forwarded to Don Katz, founder of Audible.
The essay began: “Did you know that students with disabilities, like us, need audiobooks for most subjects? It’s true. We are a group of high-functioning autistic students in Florida. We have a private tutor that helps us learn. A lot of us learn best when we can hear the book read aloud because some of us have dyslexia as well.”
It concluded with, “Students like us need Audible to help us learn. … Students who miss reading for weeks at a time will lose out on learning.”
“I honestly didn’t think I would get a reply,” Sheryl Bo, who runs Brain Lab Tutoring in Palm Bay, Florida and worked with her students on the essay, said. “We were just doing it as a cool assignment.” But on Monday, Bo got a reply: an email from Maureen Muenster, Katz’s assistant.
After a few emails between Katz’s assistant and Bo, Audible created stories.audible.com, where hundreds of books in six languages are available for streaming worldwide.
“They really stepped up. This was definitely way more than I asked for,” said Bo, who originally asked for credits for those who couldn’t afford the service.
With schools and libraries closed indefinitely, Bo knows many schoolchildren are without access to free books.
“With all the chaos, we felt we made a difference,” Bo said.
At first, Bo said, her students weren’t thrilled with the essay writing assignments. Now, they want to know who they will write to next.
“You have to know how to write, and you have to know how to compose something so that people will listen to you and have reasons and have details to back up what you’re saying,” Bo said. “Have that call to action. Ask something. Ask for something to change. Ask them to provide something. I think it was a good lesson for them.”
The pandemic has forced our nation to become creative in our working environments and Step Up remains committed to delivering educational choice options to Florida’s schoolchildren!
For more information or to learn how your corporation can participate in the program, visit StepUpForStudents.org, or call (866) 344-9553.
Thank you to Florida TaxWatch for this feature.
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For as long as schools are closed, Amazon’s Audible audiobooks are available for free to students.
Kids everywhere can instantly stream an incredible collection of stories – including titles across eight different languages – that will help them continue dreaming, learning and just being kids.
All stories are free to stream on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet.
Explore the collection, select a title and start listening.