Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award

The Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award honors teachers on the leading edge of best practices that help students with print disabilities succeed in the mainstream classroom. It has been made possible by longtime Learning Ally friend and supporter Winnie Reitnouer, a champion for great teachers and success for all students who learn differently.

Complementing the prestigious National Achievement Awards that the organization has presented for decades to remarkable students with print and reading-based disabilities, Learning Ally is thrilled to now recognize exemplary leadership and innovative efforts in the classroom. Nominate an educator for the 2017 award by November 15, 2016.

In addition to choosing the top two national awards, Learning Ally’s award selection committee identifies several teachers who receive special honors recognition.


2016 Top Award Winners


Erika Fedo

New Jersey

Erika Fedo

Erika is a third and fourth grade teacher at Village Elementary School in Montgomery Township District, New Jersey. Having a lifelong hearing impairment and being 90 percent deaf hasn’t deterred Erika from igniting a passionate love of reading among a large caseload of students with dyslexia. Her empathy, insight and mastery of assistive technology has aided her launch of a remarkable book club in which young students who had previously struggled to read now flock to school an hour early to enthusiastically discuss their favorite books – to the delight of their parents and other teachers.



Cindy Kanuch

Colorado

Cindy Kanuch

Cindy Kanuch is a learning/reading specialist who plays a highly influential role with students and teachers at the Calhan School in Calhan, Colorado. Embracing a model of neurodiversity and celebrating the strengths of students with dyslexia and learning differences, Cindy has immersed herself in Orton-Gillingham methods of reading instruction, and continually drives professional development and best practices among her fellow teachers. Thanks in large part to her influence, the Calhan School made a major leap within one year from Turn Around level to Performance level recognition by the Colorado Department of Education.


Hear from Erika and Cindy


2016 Special Honors


Connie Bagley

San Marcos, TX | Dyslexia Reading Specialist | Crockett Elementary | Kindergarten - 5th grades

Connie Bagley

"I’m trained in Orton Gillingham techniques and therefore teach with a visual, auditory, tactile-kinesthetic approach. Reading readiness is of great importance. Students need to know what language is, how it comes together, THE ALPHABET is the beginning. You build from their level up. Learning Ally and audio books has been the biggest motivator in getting students to love books. My older students who are dyslexic and very bright are now listening and reading along with books that they would never have thought of reading. We’ve done a lot of book studies this year and the students loved coming in daily and discussing the chapters they read the night before. Series by Percy Jackson, Gordon Korman, and Jeff Kinney are only a few of our favorites.

I use a quote by Albert Einstein as my measure of success – 'Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.' Each child is an individual and learns in a different way so I try to provide instruction that fits the child."



Dr. John Becchio

Santa Barbara, CA | Principal | Santa Barbara High School | 9th - 12th grades

John Becchio

"As a principal, the best thing I can do is create an environment in which my staff is open to thinking outside the box to accommodate students with print disabilities. I have to ensure that teachers are providing services and accommodating the needs of all students."



Tracey Garza-Bramel

Clarkesville, TN | Classroom Teacher | Moore Magnet Elementary | 2nd grade

Tracy Garza-Bramel

"I ensure that my students find educational success by helping students set personal reading goals and develop a growth mindset. We track their progress with oral reading fluency graphs. Students love to color in their graphs and see their growth. I also work to build a learning environment that supports a growth mindset. It’s important for students to believe that their effort and hard work will have a direct impact on their achievement. By building self-confidence, students believe that they can be successful with hard work and perseverance. I also believe in developing a personal connection with students. When students know you care, they care enough to learn."



Toni Castro

Austin, TX | Lead Reading Teacher | Travis High School | 9th - 10th grades

Toni Castro

"I encourage my students to love books by getting them on Learning Ally, sharing my love of reading, and providing access to low level, high interest books. I ensure success with my students by developing relationships with them and encouraging them so I can teach them how to be better readers. Frequently, I will work with their teachers to help them be successful in other classes besides mine."



Rebecca Circo and Belinda Schwach

Rockaway Park, NY | ICT Co Teaching Team | The Scholars' Academy | Grade 6

Circo and Schwach

"We believe in giving students lots of choice to inspire them to read. Learning Ally has been very helpful in assuring that our students with disabilities have full access to the curriculum. We conduct frequent book clubs, allowing students the opportunity to discuss literature on a high level. Audio books allow all students to read and discuss a variety of texts. We nurture each child's strengths, and provide lots of personal attention in and cooperative atmosphere. With love and compassion, and lots of support, we feel that our students can accomplish anything!"

Mrs. Schwach is a general education teacher and Mrs. Circo is special ed.



Jennifer Denton

Plano, TX | Academic Specialist/Section 504 Coordinator & Dyslexic Therapist | Wilson Middle School | 6th - 8th grades

Jennifer Denton

"Since many of my students come to my classroom not liking to read, I try and build their confidence and their love of reading. I do this by first finding what reading level they are currently an “independent’ reader in and then find books that will interest them. We usually do “paired reading”, so they can hear me read as well as me hearing them read. I continually reassure my students that when they are in my classroom, they are “safe”. No one will criticize them on their reading. Building that trust, knowing I will do all that I can to help them be a better reader, is also something I strive to do throughout the school year. 

I am constantly keeping up with my students throughout the year. I tell them that I am their “behind the scenes” teacher, in that I make sure they are getting the appropriate accommodations in their classes. I also work with teachers in helping them use strategies to help those students. Constant communication between the students, their other teachers and me is most important in helping those students continue to be successful."



Julia Di Giovanni

Fords, NJ | Special Education Teacher | Fords Middle School | 6th - 8th grades

Julia Di Giovanni

"I stress the importance of reading and finding the genre which interest them. It's not a one size fits all. We have such a dedicated staff of teachers here at FMS who work tirelessly with these students to ensure their success. If a teacher comes to me with concerns about one of my Wilson students, I address these with the student. I offer strategies for them in other classes. Now with the addition of Learning Ally to their other classes, I know they will be able to keep up with instruction and assignments."



Billy K. Hanna

Solana Beach, CA| Education Specialist | Solana Pacific Elementary School | 4th grade

Billy K. Hanna

"Personally, I was diagnosed with a learning disability in the second grade. Professionally, I have spent the last eight years working with students with special needs. These experiences have driven me to become involved in seeking new ways to deliver and reinforce learning and especially reading. I have been using Learning Ally since I was little. I remember getting these boxes of cassette tapes with the label Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFBD). I remember how excited I was to be able to listen and follow along with a book that I could not read by myself. It gave me confidence and a feeling of independence. This is why I use Learning Ally with my students because they deserve to have the same opportunities. I take data regularly and make sure we are hitting all the areas of need as well as addressing the strengths of the students. Also supplying parents with all the resources available to them is salient."



Dr. Laurie Nelson-Gill

Blowing Rock, NC | Reading Intervention Specialist | Blowing Rock Elementary School | K - 8th grades

Dr. Laurie Nelson-Gill

"I believe we will only transform the lives of the print-challenged when we move mountains to make sure they are being taught on these two levels--their reading level and their listening level. It's now possible due to the decades-long efforts of Learning Ally and groups like Don Johnston. Technology advances have made it possible for all to become intellectually literate but it takes will, time and good teachers to make sure we teach all to read and read well. When Learning Ally adopted a more user-friendly name, and gradually found ways to include the print-challenged along with the visually impaired, I knew that one day my dream of accessibility to print for all would come true. When Learning Ally took the step to include synchronized voice text on it's recordings and on any future recordings, I could feel a shift in the tectonic plates ... I know that successful readers experience success daily which is why they want to read. I create the same circumstance for my students. I put them in books where they can "reach the pedals".



Kelly Haws

MN | Specific Learning Disabilities Teacher, Dyslexia Specialist, Adjunct faculty in the special education department | K - 6th grades and college graduate students

Kelly Haws

"I use two strategies. First, to teach them how to read by using an Orton-Gillingham program called the Barton Reading and Spelling program. By the time the students reach the middle of level 4, they are loving reading. My second strategy is to use audiobooks, like Learning Ally, Bookshare and resources from the public library. Audiobooks help increase their vocabulary and turn them on to reading great books! I ensure that my students find educational success by direct, explicit and multi-sensory reading, writing and spelling instruction."



Susan Kious

Augusta, GA | Coordinator of Lower School Academic Support | Westminster School | K-5th grades

Susan Kious

"People often ask me what I do. What a joy to be able to tell them I am part of a wonderful team whose job it is to make learning to read a possibility for every child. Because our school recognizes that each child is created uniquely we have been able to develop an Academic Support Program where children are able to be seen individually during their school day, with varying amounts of support depending on their individual needs. Blessed also by an administration that strives always for excellence we have been able to attend numerous dyslexia workshops and visit with other professionals in an effort to continually stay abreast of ways we can best help our students."



Donna Magjarevich

Sealy, Texas | Dyslexia Teacher/ SPED Co-Teacher | Selman Intermediate | 4-5th grades

Donna Magjarevich

"I try to help my students see the importance of reading. I try to help them make connections between what they read and their lives. I let them see me read, and I model the comprehension strategies that I use as I read. I explicitly teach phonics and word attack skills, as well as, comprehension strategies. I allow, and even insist, that they listen to audio books. I set them up on Learning Ally with a username and password, looking up and adding books that they want. Our school uses Accelerated Reader and sets goals for them. I try to help them reach their goals by reading to them and taking time to have them read and listen to books in my classroom. Together (with my students) we put forth an all-out intentional effort to help them to become a fluent, confident, knowledgeable reader. We celebrate success, and we learn from our challenges, but we never give up!"



Stephen McCrocklin

Louisville, KY | Executive Director | Langsford Learning Acceleration Centers | K - 12th grades

Stephen McCrocklin

"Confidence follows competence. Imparting the right literacy tools guided by careful assessment is key to success. Then enveloping that student in an atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm, with intentionally chosen books. This is how the love of reading is built. 

Student success at Langsford is built one day at a time by a team of invested people. Group thinking each child, knowing that child's strengths and needs, loves and fears all influenced through the vehicle of positive relationships. So much needs to happen at so many levels for many students with print disabilities to move forward, both academically and energetically. This takes teamwork and investment."



Stephanie McKee

Teaneck, NJ | Literacy Coach | Hawthorne Elementary School | 3rd - 4th grades

Stephanie McKee

"In order to assist my students who have print disabilities I make sure to incorporate a variety of different strategies such as trace and say, finger spelling and reading/spelling of red words on a daily basis. I create individualize interactive portfolio practice that works on specific areas of strengths and weaknesses. I teach my students how to identify patterns in words as well as meaning. 

I ensure my students find educational success by celebrating their accomplishments, progress and meeting goals they create for themselves. I give them a platform to speak to and about their ideas, thoughts and feedback while reading. I keep visual trackers to monitor their success and the success of their peers."



Nicole Polizzi

Raleigh, NC | Middle School Language Arts | Saint Raphael Catholic School | 6th - 7th grades

Nicole Polizzi

"I think it is important for the students to have a genuine interest in what we are reading in class. If I can hook them with the novel, the rest is easy! Additionally, I try to maximize "free" reading time in class. The kids LOVE it! I have been introduced to all sorts of great novels and graphic novels this way! 

It is important to cheer every student's success, to praise their hard work, and to make them realize that just because they learn in a different way, it doesn't mean they are different! I like to teach them that we can look at assignments in all different ways and they do not have to be overwhelming. We can chunk it, we can listen to the reading, we can provide alternate methods of learning the material rather than just completing workbook exercises. With each success, the students gather more confidence and that is my ultimate goal! "



Nelda Reyes

San Marcos, TX | Dyslexia/Interventionis | DeZavala Elementary | K - 5th grades

Nelda Reyes

"As an educator of students with a print disability, I empower them with an "I can attitude!" The majority of them don't view themselves as readers. But, when I explain that there are three types of readers (finger readers, eye readers and ear readers), this gives them a sense of power. The love of reading comes gradually. Learning Ally is a wonderful catalyst which allows the students to view themselves as one of those types of readers. It all comes together with a simple formula: I CAN + EAR READING = LOVE of READING!"



Jessica Schetter

Denver, CO | Special Education Teacher | STRIVE Prep-Federal | 8th grade

Jessica Schetter

"My relationship with my students is the most important when it comes to fostering a love of reading. If I know what my students love and care about, I can show them that reading is a way to experience those things.

I ensure that my students find educational success by teaching to my students' unique learning styles and building up my students' confidence. If they believe in themselves, I know that they are experiencing success."



Toinette P. Staley, M.Ed.

Lynchburg, VA | Resource Director & Testing Coordinator | James River Day School

Toinette Staley

"Teaching at JRDS has given me the opportunity to help students discover their talents, build their confidence and help them strive to reach their full potential. I continue to be so impressed with the level of motivation and the character of our students. I work with students in small groups or individually and teach them systematic, explicit phonics to enhance their decoding skills. Improving their vocabulary development occurs every day. Learning Ally has been one of the best interventions to motivate reluctant readers. Using the website for reading provides an opportunity for dyslexic students to see and hear text. This visual and auditory support enhances their comprehension and improves their fluency. Learning Ally has been instrumental in helping identified reluctant readers keep up with the reading demands in our middle school. I love listening to students express their enthusiasm about completing a book and sharing how much they enjoyed it with their peers. I can quickly add that title to another resource student's Learning Ally account when they express a desire to read the recommended book. What better reassurance can I have that their love of reading is developing!"



Julie Stanfield

Humble, TX | Vision Consultant/VI Itinerant | Humble ISD | 6th - 12th grades

Julie Stanfield

"I find all the resources that are available to them and then show how to use those resources with hands-on training. Each of my students is currently using the iPad to listen to novels and create outlines and notes that help them with preparing for quizzes and exams. I also make sure that I keep up on the readings so that we can discuss what they read and we make a resource notebook that allows them to keep track of strategies that they have found helpful and if directions are necessary, those also go into the notebook so they can refer back to what has worked in the past. They also make notes as to what they will do differently the next novel they tackle.

My students find success by knowing they are life-long learners and our goals is that we each learn one new thing each day that we share with each other. So with that being said, I find that some days I am learning two new things...and that is one more than I planned!"



Katy Vassar

Austin, TX | Dyslexia Therapist | Kiker Elementary | K - 5th grades

Katy Vassar

"By showing students alternate ways to access text/print/books they are exposed to the stories and information that make reading so pleasurable. Communication is key. Having conversations with students about where they feel they need more or less support and teaching them how to advocate for what they need is vital in their educational success."



Melinda Walters

Lubbock, TX | Dyslexia Therapist | Oak Ridge Elementary | 1st - 5th grades

Melinda Walters

"As the Dyslexic Therapist, I facilitate opportunities for students to participate in school activities along with their peers. Students that have the tools and opportunities to be successful, crave what books have to offer.

When students have the playing field leveled with a tool such as Learning Ally, opportunities to participate in activities such as Battle of the Books become a reality. I am constantly monitoring the students, and encouraging them to be a self-advocate in their educational process. I meet students at their starting place, and let the students know we are moving forward."



Beverly Wolfe

Lake Worth, FL | Wilson Trainer and Speech Language Pathologist | Coral Reef Elementary | Kindergarten - 12th grade

Beverly Wolfe

"Success", as I define it, means doing the best you can. The "best you can" means using all the tools you have and having a "growth mindset". Success is not being able to say you can do something, but being able to recognize and accept the difficulty involved in learning. In other words, success is not saying "I can" , but rather "I am working to learn......" You never reach the top. Each step is to be celebrated, but there is always something to reach for. Once a student understands that there is no permanent state of success, they can forgive oneself in times of difficulty.

Students are 100% involved in charting his/her progress. He/she can explain exactly what she knows, what she needs to know, and how she is going to get there. I weave concept questions with the level of decoding of my student, and use "controlled text" as well as "non-controlled text". Once a student feels successful in both kinds of text, his/her love of reading increases. Accurate decoding, the ability to read, combined with interesting subject matter and an enthusiastic teacher, spurns a student's love of reading."