NCRA Director in the news

The Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on Sept. 16 that Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, a freelance court reporter and firm owner in Fort Collins, Colo., was elected last month to serve a three-year term as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Court Reporters Association.

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The ups and downs of parenting and virtual schooling

Court reporters and captioners with school-age children at home are among the many parents dealing with virtual schooling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Myra Ponce, RDR, CRR, an official court reporter in Los Angeles, Calif., has two children in eighth and tenth grades who she is supervising with their online schooling.

“I am teleworking and conduct court hearings via video teleconferencing,” Ponce said. “The kids understand when I’m in court, no interruptions whatsoever.”

She said her work has only been affected by occasional slow internet connections. Her children have sometimes experienced technical difficulties with being kicked off Zoom.

“I commend the teachers and staff/administration for their efforts in this new style of teaching,” Ponce said. “They, too, had to adjust a great deal — having to learn the platform Zoom, adjusting their teaching styles to accommodate for the distance learning, and, for some, having to teach from home, where I’m sure there are many distractions and obstacles they need to put aside. I commend our IT/AV staff as well, as they were able to implement the video conferencing expeditiously since the closing of our courts back in March and as they continue to keep us running through this pandemic.”

Amy Patricia Rostad, RPR, is a freelance reporter in Kirkland, Wash., who has a seventh-grade son. She said she and her husband share the supervising as their work schedules allow, but they are “pretty hands-off parents when it comes to remote learning.” 

Rostad said the first couple of weeks of school have gone well.

“He’s developing excellent time management skills,” Rostad said. “He manages his synchronous learning time by using his Outlook calendar and setting alarms for himself to ensure that he is punctual. He manages his asynchronous learning time by planning it out to ensure that he completes and submits his assignments on time.”

While eating lunch as a family and getting hugs during breaks are positive things Rostad has experienced, her family has learned to deal with tighter quarters than usual.

“It hasn’t really affected my job, except the three of us have to work as quietly as possible,” Rostad said. “At the end of June, a city water main broke and flooded our basement, so we’ve been living on the top floor of our home ever since. Thankfully, our lovely neighbors offered us the use of their home until the end of September. When we’ve needed a quiet space to work, it’s been such a blessing to have the use of their home to spread out in. My fingers are crossed that the reconstruction is complete before our neighbors return home.”

Heidi Belton, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter in Walnut Creek, Calif., who has a daughter in ninth grade. She said the only downside right now is her daughter getting headaches from too much computer time.

Workwise for her it has been positive.

“I don’t have to schlep her around,” Belton said. “So, I can actually work more. It makes work easier. We all have more time in our day because we are not commuting and packing lunches.”

Belton added another positive thing about her new schedule. “I love my Zoom depos. My dog is right at my feet!”

Rostad found another upside to virtual learning.

“I have a confession to make,” she said. “Unbeknownst to my son’s teacher, I joined in on part of his gym class last week, which was a fun and much-needed break from proofreading. His teacher was playing music and demonstrating proper stretching techniques for the kiddos to do, so I jumped right in and joined my son.”

Former NCRA member Roxanne Evlynne Tarn passes away

The Daily Courier reported on Sept. 5 that former NCRA member Roxanne Evlynne Tarn, an official court reporter from California, passed away in Prescott, Ariz., on Sept. 1.

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Working together to further court reporting in Oklahoma

By Allison M. Hall

Allison M. Hall

In Oklahoma we are fortunate enough to have a Preserving the Record Task Force that is compiled of Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, judges from across the state, staff from the administrative office of the courts, and court reporters. The task force has been in existence for the past three years. It has been an honor to serve on that task force. We have been able to collectively put our heads together to come up with many great ideas including: creating court reporting programs, changing current law and administrative rules that apply to students and temporary court reporters, raising the salary of a temporary court reporter, and Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) payment and testing regulations.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich has been a champion for stenographic court reporters in the state of Oklahoma. We are so fortunate to have her. In talking with Oklahoma District Judge Jon Parsley and some local attorneys at a social event about the dire situation of filling officialships in rural areas of the state, the idea of a grant was formed. The law firm of Burns & Stowers out of Norman, Okla., was instrumental in the process.

They were able to request that a $500,000 distribution be directed by Judge Parsley to the Oklahoma Bar Foundation as seed money to develop a scholarship, grant, and assistance program to encourage qualified court reporters to work as official court reporters in rural Oklahoma.

The grant was generated from money remaining from a class action suit. Funds that go unclaimed in such suits are typically placed in a trust fund by the legal firm representing the plaintiffs. Once the funds have been disbursed, any remaining money is either distributed as grants to nonprofit and charity organizations or, in some cases, returned to the defendants.

In early 2020, our committee was formed. Over the next several months of working as a committee with like-minded goals, we were able to finalize the policies and procedures and the application process. There are two components: One is an educational block grant that existing court reporting programs in the state of Oklahoma can apply for; the other is an employment grant that a court reporter who is an Oklahoma CSR and is willing to commit to working in rural Oklahoma can apply for to help with relocation costs. Currently, the court reporting schools in Oklahoma are going through the application process to request the educational block grant.

I am hopeful for what this means for court reporting education and the reporting job market in rural Oklahoma. I am so grateful to Chief Justice Gurich, District Judge Parsley, the Oklahoma Bar Foundation, and all who were involved in the brainstorming process and serving on the committee. The hope is that, in Oklahoma, this is the first of many grants used to further court reporting in rural areas of the state.

Allison M. Hall, RMR, CRR, is an official state court reporter from Tulsa, Okla. She can be reached at allie441@gmail.com.

Former NCRA member passes away

The West Valley News recently reported that former NCRA member Miguel A. Benitez, a retired official court reporter from Goodyear, Ariz., passed away on Aug. 4.

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NCRA member William Cohen passes away

Longtime NCRA member William Cohen, 96, of Chelsea, New York, died on July 28, 2020.

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Taking exams in lockdown

By Leah Willersdorf

As I write this, here in the United Kingdom I am coming toward the end of week 12 of having had no work due to the pandemic. It is what it is. But what’s a girl to do when she knows no different to travelling the world with her passport in one hand and pulling her steno machine (and numerous iPads) along in the other? Why, sit down at home and  practice every day, of course. Well, almost every day.

I began by taking down our governmental daily briefings on TV and adding plenty of new words to my dictionary. Then, as COVID-19 well and truly took hold of London, I realised that I had to settle in for the long haul and had to find better ways to practice because, to be honest, I didn’t want to hear about COVID day in and day out. And so it was on 28 April I decided to register for the RPR.

I am a Australian reporter who has lived in London for 25 years and have been accredited with the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters for as long as I can remember and have also passed their Qualified Realtime Reporter (QRR) exams at levels 1 and 2, but I have never taken an online exam before in any country and I have to say I was a little worried that the online platforms would be my downfall, not my actual skill. The only exams I have ever taken have been in a room with other stenographers, which isn’t exactly a silent affair, but to be able to do it in the comfort of your own home was a novel experience, that’s for sure, and, boy, did I have a few experiences!

I bought the SmartPrep package for the exams on Realtime Coach. I was unfamiliar with this platform but soon got used to it. I will say that in some of the pieces, the errors it gives are incorrect, but if you see one, please, please take a screenshot of it and the practice session you’re in, and send it to the folks at Realtime Coach so they can correct the text. If they’re not told, they will never know. In total, I think I sent five through.

I practiced for varying times each day, except weekends. One day I sat down to do it for an hour, only to look at the clock and realise that three hours had gone by. It really is quite addictive. And fun! But isn’t steno anyway?!

I did my exams on three consecutive Fridays during May, the Celebrate Certifications month. First up was the jury charge. I had done the proctored practice test, which gives you the exact experience of the examination process. Well, not so exact because I didn’t have all those belly butterflies that we get in exam situations. First off, during this situation we are living in, do expect to wait for a technician. On exam day, I waited for just under an hour, which, yes, is prolonging the exam angst, and then I was transferred from technician to technician to technician, which further added to it, but it can’t be helped; so please do be prepared that that may happen to you and that also taking a proctored practice test is highly recommended.

When I finally was assigned a proctor, he didn’t verbalise his instructions like the one on the proctored practice did; instead, he used the chat box. I guess it was plausible that could happen, but it hadn’t entered my mind because I was expecting the exact process as the proctored practice. Then, at one point, somehow when he was taking control of my computer and doing stuff, my task bar at the bottom of my screen disappeared, as did the chat box. Because I had no task bar, I didn’t know how to minimise the screen to see if the chat box was sitting behind it. I began to panic a little. All of a sudden, the task bar came back, and the chat box was there so I was able to follow his instructions. Talk about a little extra stress when you’ve already been waiting for a while. Still, it was time to do the exam, so all of that went by the by.

Moral of this story: Stay calm. Let the proctor do their thing. Keep an eye on that chat box. Breathe.

Outcome: Jury charge passed 99 percent.

Next up was the testimony portion. Now au fait with both the Realtime Coach and ProctorU platforms, it was just a matter of practicing until the big day and taking each step of the process as it came. One and a half hours before I was due to log in to the ProctorU site, I heard a drilling noise in my surroundings. I live in the middle floor of a three-storey block of six flats. There’s been nobody upstairs during the pandemic as it was being renovated, but exam day, of all days, they decided they needed to pop in and do a few bits and pieces. I went upstairs and politely asked when they would be finished and explained that I was doing an exam. Well, the drilling would be finished but the carpet fitter was due midway through my exam apparently. Thankfully, I didn’t hear a peep.

However, I did have a technical issue when uploading my transcript where it seemed to get stuck in a loop; you know the kind when the wheel just goes round and round and round. And round. After last week’s loss-of-task-bar panic stations and being a little unnerved by the technician, this surely could not be happening! I found myself wondering if it doesn’t correct itself, what’s the worst thing that could happen here. I don’t pass? Well, I can’t pass if I can’t upload a transcript, right? I’d just have to resit the exam, so not the end of the world, just a bit of a hassle. Before admitting technical defeat to what turned out to be an issue on my end, unbeknownst to me, I contacted my proctor via the chat box because my instinct was telling me to refresh the page. The proctor said not to, and I absolutely had to be guided by her. Time was ticking by, but I had 54 minutes to go when I first started in the loop de loop, and 20ish had already passed. She went away, made a few enquiries with her manager, and I was able to email my transcript to the NCRA, along with my steno notes, all under the guidance and view of the proctor. Phewy, I won’t have to sit it again after all! Or so I thought.

Moral of this story: Don’t get flustered if you experience a technical issue. Stop and think. Listen to your proctor’s advice. Breathe.

Outcome: Found out on 8 June that my exam was not able to be graded because, in my haste, I uploaded a practice test.

Moral of the outcome: Don’t get flustered. Don’t kick yourself. Just accept you’ll have to sit it again. You know you can do it!

And, finally, the last Friday of May 2020 saw me take the literary leg. I was due to log into ProctorU at 1:20 p.m., and so I spent my morning practicing, using the Internet Explorer browser, and running equipment tests. All was A-OK. Well, it was from about 8.30 a.m. to 10.29 a.m., but at 10.30 I figured I’d open up RTC in Chrome using my NCRA credentials. I couldn’t navigate in Chrome and so I went back to IE. Nothing. Got out my second laptop and tried the same thing. Nope. The internet at large was playing games with me. I knew something had to happen today because of the last two exams, but I got through those and I would get through this. So I then tried my desktop and it was the same. I couldn’t even get onto the NCRA website nor RTC’s. I messaged a friend and asked her if she could get on because maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t a Leah issue but an issue with their websites. Ha! Of course I didn’t really believe that. I turned the wifi off on my phone and was able to use the 4G, so I then knew it had to be my fibre optic broadband. I turned everything off, put the kettle on to make a cuppa and then set up my mobile router I take to depositions (just in case the law firm’s wifi is miserable). I straightaway tested my equipment on ProctorU. Mifi to the rescue!! I kept the home router off, as well as all but one computer, in order to do the exam. Potential disaster #1 diverted. Breathe.

But then – what, there’s more? – at midday the gardeners turned up with their strimmers to trim the hedges. Okay, fine, I have one hour and 20 minutes until I need to log on. Surely they’ll be done in time. Oh, but then they had to get the blower out to blow the strimmings. And so it was with three minutes 30 seconds to spare, the strimmers stopped, the blowers blew out, and potential disaster #2 was also diverted. I took one last sip of water, put my machine in test mode, and as I watched that counter go down to start my session, I imagined hearing the words “Ready. Begin,” with all my internet/gardening issues now well and truly behind me.

Moral of this story: Take each obstacle which comes your way one at a time. Have a backup for your internet because you may just have to reschedule the exam if you don’t. Thank your gardeners.

Outcome: Literary passed 99 percent.

To anybody taking exams soon or in future, I found Realtime Coach and ProctorU easy-to-use platforms. In the exam process, take your time and don’t rush. Easier said than done, I know. I took big, deep breaths before pressing Play. There’s no time limit before pressing that Play button, not that I could see anyway. Relax, breathe, and focus. Close your eyes if you have to. I did.

I do wish they graded these transcription exams with a decimal point; after all, that’s what we are looking at every day if we have our stats up on our software screen. For example, say you got 94.8 percent, and the pass is 95 percent, a decimal point grading gives you an exact idea of where you are on that spectrum between 94 and 95, i.e., sooo close, and that in itself can be a huge boost to your confidence.

UPDATE 08/24/20: As we enter Week 24 of the pandemic here, I am delighted to say that not only did I pass the testimony leg in mid-July at 98 percentAND it was free of any incidents — but two days after that, I traveled into central London for the first time in months (an eerie feeling) where I sat and passed the WKT. I honestly did not think I was successful.  As I walked toward the man on reception, I was shaking my head and giving a thumbs down, but even behind his mask I could tell he was smiling.

My tips for the WKT:  Get a good night’s sleep. Read the questions and the answers. Sounds obvious, I know.

Before all of this, the only kind of long haul I’d experienced was flights, but in a way I have to thank the London lockdown for getting me well on the way to my RPR. The CRR is already booked for September!

Leah Willersdorf is a freelance court reporter and captioner based in London. She can be reached at courtreporterlondon@gmail.com.

NCRA Christine Phipps to lead NCRA

A press release issued by NCRA announcing that Christine Phipps, RPR, has been named to serve as the Association’s 2020-2021 president was posted in the latest issue of The Greater Tallahassee, Fla., Chamber of Commerce newsletter.

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South Bend woman finds her calling in the courthouse

The South Bend Tribune posted an interview on Aug. 24 with court reporting student and CASE Scholarship recipient Stephanie Oldeck about her career choice and also quotes NCRA President Christine Phipps, RPR.

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San Antonio students awarded court reporter scholarships

TV station KSAT aired a segment on Aug. 21 featuring two court reporting students and scholarship recipients from San Antonio, Texas, who are on their way to becoming among the hardest working people in the courtroom.

Watch here.