MCPS Foundation Supports New Ways to Read and Learn

PebbleGo Spanish StudentSpecial districtwide grants provide new digital content for MCPS students during FY2021

In a typical year, the Foundation awards several small grants to fund Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) teachers’ projects. The funded projects must be in line with MCPS’ strategic priorities and applicants need to demonstrate how their project would benefit MCPS students. However, in fiscal year 2021, nothing was typical. Grants funded in fiscal year 2020 were given an extension for completion and instead of the usual grant competition, the Foundation Grants Committee funded districtwide projects that would benefit the most students possible in the circumstances.

Two of these districtwide projects included the implementation of online reading and language resources: TeenBook Cloud ($22,750 grant) and PebbleGo Spanish ($59,840 grant).

Teen Cloud ImageAll MCPS secondary schools received TeenBook Cloud, an online collection of 1,238 fiction and nonfiction enhanced eBooks, graphic novels, videos, and audiobooks for students in grades 6-12. The site provides unlimited access to all content so multiple students can access the same title simultaneously. Over the course of the year, MCPS students and staff viewed and/or listened to 7,969 titles.

TeenBook Cloud’s enhanced titles include accessibility features like the text-to-speech or read-along functions. Project Director Margaret Gaudino, coordinator, Evaluation and Selection of Instrutional Materials and Library Books, School Library Media Programs, reported these features were particularly beneficial to students with IEPs and to ESOL students. Access to graphic novel versions of titles taught in ELA courses also helped visual learners understand complex themes. According to Gaudino, parents loved that "children had additional easy access to online resources [with] many reading options and formats." Students said the different format options in TeenBook Cloud were “more enjoyable than a traditional print format,” said Gaudino. Teachers used the online collection to support required reading and provide supplemental texts as well as a resource for free reading periods and book clubs.

PebbleGo Spanish is a complementary program to the English PebbleGo, which the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs purchases annually. This Spanish encyclopedia, made available to all MCPS elementary schools, is geared to students in grades PebbleGo Spanish 2PreK-3. PebbleGo Spanish provides articles and interactive activities in all curricular areas, including social-emotional learning topics, with expertly translated to Spanish. Between July 2020 and June 2021, more than 39.5 million articles were accessed in the PebbleGo system and 658,596 of those articles were in the Spanish database. Examples of specific research topics searched through PebbleGo Spanish include: Community workers, Supreme Court Justices, Animals, famous Asian Americans, and Women’s History Month.

According to Gaudino, “all students benefitted from having access to PebbleGo Spanish during the school year.” The human read, text-to-speech functionality in particular supports English language learners, Spanish-speaking students, and beginning readers.

“Spanish-speaking students were able to build foundational skills and content vocabulary needed to access curricular content,” reported Gaudino. “Students could hear content in their native language and use that as a bridge to accessing and understanding the English counterpart article.”

Non-Spanish speaking students also benefitted from PebbleGo Spanish. The database helped provide an introduction to the Spanish language, learning basic vocabulary through the Spanish text-to-speech feature. Gaudino also reported that teachers appreciated the availability of PebbleGo for their students, adding, "[It was] well worth the investment."