(L-R) Greer Principal Robyn Bolling, teachers Heidi Morse and Stephanie Tatel, and CenturyLink representative Marcus Hill

An Albemarle County Public Schools teacher is making reading a little easier for some of her students.

Thanks to a $1,200 gift from the CenturyLink Clarke M. Williams Foundation’s Teachers and Technology grant program, Greer Elementary School teacher Stephanie Tatel will reinforce reading skills with the use of audio in her classroom.

“We congratulate Stephanie Tatel on her part in providing innovative technology in the classroom that enhances the learning experience for students in her school,” said Marcus Hill, CenturyLink General Manager for Virginia. “It is exciting to see a teacher so passionate about preparing her students for their future and finding creative ways to use technology to bridge the gap in learning.”

The project, entitled “Engaging and Motivating Special Needs Readers,” will use 20 mp3 players to create a digital audio library designed for 4th and 5th graders. Tatel said the idea arose from a conversation she had with Heidi Morse, a Special Education Teacher, about some of Morse’s students.

“When you have a specific learning disability that hinders your decoding, chances are slim that you’re going to be able to power through tougher texts, even when you might understand every word when read aloud,” Tatel said. “We wanted to teach our students how they too can access and enjoy the same books their peers do, just not necessarily through text.”

The project doesn’t plan to replace all reading instruction, Tatel said. Rather, the mp3 players will aid the students who struggle with reading, hopefully sparking a life-long love of reading.

“When you’re 11 years old it’s a real bummer if you are not able to read the exciting, age-appropriate books your peers are reading, so why not listen to them?” Tatel added, noting that some of the projects’ goals include increasing student motivation, comprehension and vocabulary.

Tatel said some publishers produce what are called “hi-lo readers,” which are written for older children who are reading below grade level, but that these books are expensive and not widely available, so many struggling readers don’t experience the joys of a reading life.

“Readers think about what they’re reading, they make connections to their own lives…they can share books with people they care about, but only when they can find books that they love and are interested in,” Tatel said.

“That is why learning to enjoy books through listening is so important for these kids,” Tatel added. “They can and should learn how to stimulate their imaginations and intellect with books.”