National Literacy Action Week

February 21, 2018
“Alex Bernosky is a full time member serving with Reading Connections. Reading Connections
offers tutoring to adult basic education and adult ESOL learners in Guilford County.”
National Literacy Action Week, or NLAW, took place from February 1st to February 8th. During
this week, campus literacy programs hold events to raise awareness for the importance of
literacy. This year’s theme was “Literacy as a Right”, and SCALE partnered with Prison Books,
an organization dedicated to providing books to incarcerated individuals. Rebekah King and I are both AmeriCorps members serving with Reading Connections. We decided to provide tutors with lesson plans focusing on the importance of literacy and representation, restorative justice, and the school to prison pipeline. Rebekah and I created our own lesson plan focusing on literacy as right. The student objectives for that lesson plan are as follows:
● Students will discuss the idea of a single story and how a single story can impact the
way we think about an entire population.
● Students will identify ways that education and literacy can disrupt unequitable
hierarchies of power and privilege.
● Students will reflect on the importance of education as well as how having access to
literacy is vital in a person’s development and well-being.
Students were introduced to the topic via Humans of New York Inmate Stories series. These
stories were meant to highlight the backgrounds of a few inmates in a federal prison. Some of
the stories discussed the lack of access to education and the role the education system plays in
the school to prison pipeline. This opened the discussion on why education is so important
throughout childhood. Additionally, students watched Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk “The
Danger of a Single Story”, in which Chimamanda demonstrates the need for representative
literature. These activities exposed the students  to an important discussion concerning the outcome
when students are denied access to a quality education and/or are unable to see themselves
represented in the materials taught at school. This also gave students the space to talk about
their own experiences in school and how those experiences have affected them throughout their
lives and even still today.
After using the lesson plan with her own students, Rebekah gathered from them that “Schools
have made students afraid to learn and to ask questions, and the feeling of low self-worth has
carried into their adult lives as well”. Reading Connections serves adult students, and some of
our students did not have great experiences in school. Some may have been punished for
making mistakes, left behind in instruction, or pushed through to the next grade even though they were not ready or set up for success in the next grade level. For us, the take-away from our NLAW activity was to continue to provide supportive learning environments where it is safe and encouraged to make mistakes in order to learn and to provide students with representative and relevant instruction.

MLK Day of Service

January 25, 2018

MLK Day of Service at Book Harvest

Allie Brown


On January 15, our NC LiteracyCorps cohort participated in the annual Dream Big Book Drive with Book Harvest. With our focus on Literacy as a Right, this was a perfect way to put our words into action and do something to further promote literacy in our community.

We divided up into different groups to help all steps of the tremendous undertaking run smoothly. Some of us checked in volunteers, others accepted book donations, others directed volunteers who sorted, stickered, counted, boxed, and hauled boxes away. It was amazing to see how well-organized this event was: in the space of a few hours, we processed and sorted over 30,000 books that Book Harvest will distribute to eager readers of all ages.

This is an ideal activity to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. on Civil Rights Day. He was credited with saying: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Similarly, the AmeriCorps motto is: “Getting things done for America.”

We all spend our days serving in community organizations and schools, focusing on improving literacy access to people of all ages, identities, and stages of life. Every day, we get things done for America and for others.

Little Free Libraries

January 25, 2018

“Areej Hussein is a minimum-time member serving with the UNC America Reads program. The UNC America Reads program offers tutoring and mentoring for grades K-5 in Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools. “


“Little Free Libraries”


Education is a human right, not a privilege, and a child’s educational quality should not be based on whether their parents have more disposable income or live in a better neighborhood or, most importantly, come from a community that has suffered from systemic oppression and exploitation. The number of book deserts in high-poverty urban areas is striking, and the gap in literacy and simple exposure to words between communities of high and low socioeconomic status can only be closed by access to resources for areas without.

SCALE has received the MacDonald Fellowship grant of $1500. Other members of the SCALE team and I plan to use these funds to kick start our “Little Free Libraries” Initiative. The Little Free Library is revolved around the idea of “take a book, return a book” — it’s a free book exchange for children of all ages. We plan to place these libraries in Chapel-hill and Carrboro communities, including rural communities, low-income housing areas, refugee communities, and places where buses rarely run because many of these communities face barriers in accessing the public library.

Being a tutor has taught us first hand that every family has hardships, but being able to afford a book should not be one of them. Books help children develop basic language skills and immensely expand their vocabularies. Without this basic tool, a child could stumble forever. It is with this social issue that The Little Free Library initiative was created.

Another social issue we plan to address through the Little Free Library is the lack of diversity and proper representation of people of different backgrounds in public library collections.  Our goal is not only to provide children of these communities with free access to books, but our mission also includes providing these communities with literature that they can see themselves in. When children can see themselves in the books they read they are more likely to engage and show interest in reading. Promoting exclusivity in books is an important step in closing the achievement gap experienced by low-income and minority groups.

New Year’s Resolution

January 8, 2018

Jennifer Gonzalez is a full-time member serving at Achievement Academy of Durham. The Achievement Academy of Durham is a non-profit school created to assist youth in successfully passing the GED and then graduate with a post secondary degree or certification that enables them to move out of poverty. 


My Name is Jennifer Gonzalez I am a former student  at Achievement Academy of Durham. After I earning my GED I was asked to become an Americorps member and I gladly accepted. I now help new student and my fellow classmates and volunteers  with anything they need help with like getting scrap paper, sharpening a pencil, reading, math or building a resume etc. I love what I do I truly enjoy helping others with anything they need help with.

My New year’s resolution is to inspire positive change in my life and for those around me. I want to try my best to help those around me by inspiring them to read, learn as much as they can, and try their best at all they do. We have so much chaos going on in the world and I think that being a positive inspiration is something we all need. There are many individuals who lack academic support from their friends and families and I have learned that having someone cheering for you on the side lines makes achieving goals so much more satisfying.

The impact I have on  students  is very inspiring to me  because some of our students were my classmates that sat next to me in class and watched me struggle and get discouraged at times. When I didn’t understand or get something sometimes they would ask me “How did you do on your test?” or ask me “Was it hard?” I always tell them it can be hard at times but if you take your time and stay focused you can do it. I love my position at the Achievement Academy because I still remember the day I walked in as a student and I would tell myself that this is too hard and I’m never gonna get it. I felt that it was going to  take me forever to get my GED and I was older than everyone else so I couldn’t see the light a the end of the tunnel. Today I am forever grateful for all the encouragement my peers gave me and I look forward to going to work everyday to inspire and encourage every single person that walks through the door. I  will share my experience with my students and let them know that I was once on the other side of the table and if I can do then they can too!


Literacy in Action Through Gamification

November 27, 2017

Della Owens serves full-time at the Durham Literacy Center as part of the Adult Literacy team. For her part, she tutors a basic literacy student one-on-one, provides literacy education support, and manages student and tutor data. The Adult Literacy Program is designed to empower adults through a student-centered approach to learning. The mission of the Durham Literacy Center is to empower those who want to improve their lives and the lives of their families by improving their literacy skills.

To give a brief definition of gamification when used within an educational context, it means to add gameplay elements to a task with the intention of motivating students to learn in a fun and engaging way. Some examples of gamification include the “Duolingo” app that awards “lingots” to players that complete their foreign language lessons, or the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website that tracks word goals and awards badges for completing them.

Regarding literacy, the game Scrabble gamifies spelling by giving each letter a point value and gives the players the goal of getting the most points to beat their opponent. We can see literacy in action through gamification at the Durham Literacy Center’s annual “Game Night” for Adult Literacy tutors and students. The event is designed as a friendly, if a little competitive, opportunity to have fun learning in a different way.

This year, we had fourteen attendees with twelve people playing. The players were divided between two large Scrabble boards with each board having three teams of two, making sure to have students paired with a tutor.

One student who came with his tutor had not played Scrabble before, but his tutor had played Scrabble often as a child. They worked together, just as all the other pairs worked together, to use the letter titles they had to make words on the Scrabble board.


The tutor guided her student towards coming up with solutions on his own, offering suggestions when needed. Sher would ask her student questions, such as what common blend do you see, what digraph could we use here, or what is another word we could use. Just like the other players, he would use a dictionary to verify he spelled a word correctly. She helped him learn the rules of the game and in the end, they were having a lot of fun working together to try and beat the other teams.

On the other side of the table with the other group of players, one student and tutor pair decided to pair up with other players. The student paired up with a tutor that wasn’t his and the tutor paired up with a tutor whose student hadn’t been able to attend.

As the game progressed, the student and his temporary tutor worked together to find words that would work on the board. The atmosphere was jovial with an edge of competitiveness. The student and his original tutor, who was “the enemy,” poked fun at each other as they each tried to win.

Making words with tiles is something that students work on in their regular lessons, but by adding a scoring system, by gamifying their learning, it made making words have a purpose other than just practicing. A player could make a word that gave them six points, but by thinking of other words they could make with their tiles, there would be a potential of creating a word with a higher point score. It made the student strategize, to think about what words to use, and to have fun while doing it. It involved being creative and problem-solving. If a word you thought of conflicts with another

word on the board, what other word could you use? Is there another place on the board it could go?

In the end, Game Night was a success. The students and tutors were able to utilize the skills they had learned in their lessons to play against others and had fun doing it. There was even talk of practicing so that they could win next year, which hopefully means that the students received a little extra motivation that they can take with them into their studies.

Volunteer Spotlight: Rendon Foy

November 3, 2017

Stephanie Metzen serves at the Durham Literacy Center as a member of the ESOL Program. As part of her service, she teaches an English class, helps with data input, and manages volunteers. With a background in refugee/asylum studies, this year is an amazing opportunity to work intimately with the population she has spent the last several years researching. It is a privilege to see firsthand the hard work and dedication of the students as well as of the generous volunteers who donate time, excitement, and their love of the English language. 

One of the practices that has definitely evolved over time has been to encourage students to work in pairs in activities and to help each other overcome any gaps in understanding. Pairing students, especially those who do not share another language, helps utilize the class’s potentially frustrating variety of skills and levels in a productive way. Moreover, it aids in prudently destabilizing the teacher as ‘The Source of Knowledge’ and the supposed perfection of native speakers, as well. Though this is an approach I will continue to explore and improve, the environment it can generate is the most adequate manifestation of the U.S. as a melting pot that I have personally seen. As I hope I managed to express at other moments, the DLC’s project is not just a unilateral integration into English-speaking society, though that is a vital objective, but beyond that it offers a space for people to work together from our diverse backgrounds to achieve that objective.” –Rendon Foy


Rendon Foy has served as an invaluable asset to the Durham Literacy Center throughout her time as an ESOL instructor. A graduate student in the Romance Studies Department at Duke, Rendon teaches one of the most challenging ESOL levels: beginning literacy. At this level of instruction, some students do not know a word of English, subsequently making seemingly simple tasks like giving instructions to students that much more challenging. Nevertheless, Rendon always approaches the classroom with a quiet eagerness and optimistic attitude that makes her one of our strongest instructors. Her own experiences with learning a foreign language have served her well and it is apparent that she possesses not only a substantial amount of patience, but an understanding of the unique stumbling blocks associated with language acquisition.

An example of putting theory into practice, Rendon is able to take what she has learned about pedagogy at Duke and implement it in the English classroom. However, no amount of study can prepare teachers for the reality of instructing an ESOL class. One thing that Rendon has learned is that it is important to find the humor in the course. Inherent in an ESOL class is an internal sense of infantilization, specifically when you are working with adults. Instead of denying its existence, Rendon embraces it. There is an innate hierarchy within the classroom, one in which the instructor is at the top, but by finding the comedy in the classroom, a teacher is able to subvert-at least in part-the pre-existing power dynamic. This humor is also a source of humility for Rendon as she incorporates her body as a tool of communication and theater as a source of inspiration. What you cannot express in words, you may be able to express in action. In her own words, “I like making a fool of myself, but with a purpose.”

Students and instructors alike must be willing to be silly, open, and vulnerable. We expect as much out of our students as we expect out of our teachers. We want to construct a caring and empowering environment for our learners. They are after all, the biggest stakeholders in their own education. The DLC and its teachers, such as Rendon, are the crucial tools through which we are able to serve this migrant population. For many of our students, English is not their second language. It may actually be their third, fourth, or fifth language, a fact which can be extremely humbling. The students bring a myriad of experiences, perspectives, and skills to the table. The flip side to this is, of course, that Rendon has to adapt to a classroom in which students are at various levels of English knowledge. Some students speak well, but cannot read or write. Some students cannot speak at all, but know the alphabet. This context requires Rendon to be flexible, both adept at responding to the unique needs of the students as well as thinking on her feet. It helps to recognize that, as Rendon said, students are all knowledgeable, just in different ways. By recognizing the value of each individual student, Rendon not only allows students to feel safe making mistakes and admired as they progress, she represents the best aspects of the American promise.

The ‘American Dream’ is built upon communication within society and in order to function within our local community-to prosper-it is often necessary to be able to speak some degree of English. A lived reality for our students, Rendon affords them the opportunity to better engage with their neighbors as well as society-at-large. We cannot adequately put into words the difference Rendon makes to our program, but without a doubt, I have tried. She is strong, committed, talented, and kind. We could not ask for more from a volunteer. We are grateful. We are humbled. We are fortunate.

Make A Difference Day

October 30, 2017

Emily Mercado is a full time member serving for Communities in Schools of Durham at Eno Valley Elementary School. Communities in Schools (CIS) aims to reduce high school drop out rates by targeting students with attendance, behavior, or academic struggles and use mentoring and one-on-one relationships between students.

For Make a Difference Day, I decided to do a teacher appreciation activity with the 2nd grade after school students at Eno Valley Elementary School. I decided that I wanted to complete an interactive activity with a group of students and I wanted to receive their input, thoughts, ideas and opinions as well. I wanted them to collaborate with me and other students. I enjoyed hearing their feedback regarding on how to improve the lives of others and giving back to their teachers. We worked on their writing skills as well when we completed the two handouts that I created. The activities were completed on October 26, 2017 and I was able to distribute two handouts that I created. The first handout was titled, “Make a Difference Day” and I wanted each student to write down their name as well as grade. I included the purpose of “Make a Difference Day” which is “to improve the lives of others.” I had the students write down their ideas on how to improve the lives of others and I was hearing ideas from the importance of not littering, helping others who are sick, and to not bully. I made the students list down their ideas and thoughts. I assisted them with their writing and spelling on the first handout. The second handout was a card that was for their teachers and I wanted them to write thank you letters to their teachers. It gave the students a chance to give back to their teachers and hopefully brighten their day. The students were able to focus on how we can help other individuals and the importance of helping others. It was great to hear their ideas and thoughts about their teachers. I want the students I work with to have a voice and I want them to expand their mind to different topics. It is important for me to discuss with them various topics regarding community and service to other individuals. I was impressed with their willingness to contribute their ideas and collaborate with other students at such a young age. They seemed to be eager to voice their opinions and finish the activity.


Latinx Heritage Month

October 20, 2017

Carmen Palacios-Aguirre is a minimum time member and Olivia Sandin is a part time members serving at the Read to L.E.A.D program . This program uses literacy, a social justice, and mentorship to improve youth and their college mentors’ cultural competency and sense of self.

For the month of October, we decided to do lessons to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with our mentors and mentees. We serve a large Latinx population, and wanted our mentees to understand that their cultural identity was something to be proud of and value. We chose to call this month “Latinx” Heritage Month because it encompasses more of the population we’re trying to reach. Often times the word “Hispanic” brings the Spanish colonization into view, which many Latinx populations are wary of. Interacting with the kids and offering them different views from what they’re used to is eye-opening. We started this month by bringing awareness to Puerto Rico and having our students brainstorm action plans to help the island.  We wanted our community to understand that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and that the country needs help.  We also wanted our mentees to understand the link between poverty and natural disasters, and that people living on poverty are affected more by hurricanes.  We were very impressed by the action plans our mentees came up with, and how passionate they were about helping.

The next week, we put Christopher Columbus “on trial” with our mentees, and challenged them to view the “founding” of America from two different perspectives—the Taino people and Columbus’s men, and then decided if we really should celebrate Columbus Day.  After reading about some of the terrible things Christopher Columbus did, the children decided we should not celebrate Columbus.  Our mentors agreed—and believed we should celebrate the Taino people instead.  It’s important that our children get to see history from a different point of view than they’re used to.  We wanted them to understand the roots of the people in the Caribbean, as they had just learned about Puerto Rico the week before.

We also did a lesson in which the children read biographies about famous Latinx people. The younger kids made a “trading card” that highlighted the important roles of Latnix people in the larger world, and the older kids made a “Snapchat story” highlighting the role of the person they chose.  The idea was that in addition to highlighting the important roles of Lantix people individually and as a community, the children would see the diversity within the community by trading cards with others and “viewing” their friends story.  Latinx people are singers, writers, politicians, Supreme Court justices, athletes, and actors, and they come from more countries that just Mexico.


Finally, we did a lesson that highlighted different Latinx holidays. We got to explore holidays from around Central and South America, including Dia de los Muertos, Dia de los Niños, Cinco de Mayo, Semana Santa, Navidad,  Día de los Reyes. For the younger kids, we focused on holidays that weren’t very religious based, but we did engage the older kids with those holidays. We understood that we are not there to preach, but to inform and understand. Mentioning these Holidays are important because both the mentees and the mentors can see where traditions come from and how religion is a very big thing in many Latinx populations.

This month was definitely rewarding for us.  Not only did we change a lot of our children’s and mentor’s perspectives about history, we also made them aware of the current need for aid in Puerto Rico.  Our Latinx mentees are very excited when we highlight their community, and how enthusiasm arises for the lessons that celebrate their holidays and people that look them.  Our Latinx kindergarteners were especially excited, because these lessons first made them aware of their own cultural identity.  Even better, they painted their culture in a positive light, and helped them develop a positive cultural identity.




Diaper Awareness Week

October 19, 2017

Bria Yates is a minimum time member serving with the America Reads program. The America Reads program offers tutoring for grades K-2 in 6 of the Durham Public Schools. 

The National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) was founded in 2011 to raise awareness that throughout the United States, families have difficulty keeping their infants and toddlers clean, healthy, and dry because they cannot afford a most basic necessity…a diaper. NDBN raises awareness about diaper need and the remarkable work that community-based diaper banks are doing to help by collecting donated diapers, purchasing diapers with donations and ensuring families and babies get the diapers they need.

Unless you are a person who wears or routinely changes a diaper, diapers would be the furthest thing from your mind. However, for infants, toddlers, and those suffering from medical conditions diapers are a necessity in everyday life. Diapers can be expensive—as much as $100 for a month’s supply. Most people are unaware that diapers cannot be bought with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka “food stamps”) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). For some people, their resources are already stretched thin with food, housing and utilities. Not having enough money can limit a parent’s ability to work as many daycare facilities require a week supply of diapers for them to attend.

Luckily for these people, the National Diaper Bank Network understands that not everyone has funds to afford diapers. That’s why Diaper Need Awareness Week was established 5 years ago. Since its start, this initiative has gain support from more than 211 diaper banks in 44 states and the District of Columbia.. Diaper Need Awareness Week is an initiative of the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) created to mobilize efforts to help make a difference in the lives of the nearly 5.2 million babies in the U.S. aged three or younger who live in poor or low-income families. Diaper Needs Awareness Week is celebrated through September 25-October 1. 

Today, the National Diaper Bank Network serves more than 1.2 million children and their families. Collectively, we work with more than 22,000 local agencies.

In conjunction with our Make a Difference Day project; NCCU America Reads program has joined forces with Science African American Majors Evolving (SAAME) by hosting a diaper wrapping drive on campus.  SAAME is an all-female STEM major organization that promotes equality among minority, women, and their male counterparts. The drive will be held on October 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm in Chidley Classroom. This event is open to the public. We are collecting Diapers, Wipes, and Feminine products (open items are accepted).  

Do You Understand Where I’m Coming From?

October 2, 2017

Robert Manzo serves as a full time member for the youth GED program at the Durham Literacy Center. The program prepares young people ages 16 – 24 to take the GED test and earn their diploma, so that they’re prepared to go onto college or a better career/job.


Do You Understand Where I’m Coming From?


When you think about where people come from, there are a few questions you ask. Where did they grow up? What kind of family do they have? What’s their native culture like? These are the kinds of questions you would naturally ask someone you’re meeting for the first time. And they’re the questions that students, tutors, and I ask one another at the Durham Literacy Center, in the youth GED prep program, where people from all different places, families, and cultural backgrounds come together for a common reason: to educate.

Students here are educating themselves, helped by an incomparable group of volunteer tutors who, in turn, get to learn about a unique group of ambitious young people, their origins and aspirations, where they’re from and where they’re headed, the not-so-distant destinations of colleges, new workplaces, and richer (in mind, not money—but maybe that too) personal lives. Besides the academics, learning also happens when individuals talk or share adjacent space. In the GED prep program, called the Youth Education Program (YEP) in our official books, this other type of learning happens all the time, and it’s no less exciting or ultimately useful than relative clauses, second-degree polynomials, or representative democracy, to name just a few subjects students learn in the official GED curriculum.

Just as students in YEP have many different reasons for being here, so each one has unique life goals. They’re good to talk about because goals help students keep perspective. One student wants to be a nurse and dedicates herself to study amid the many family obligations and faraway appointments she has. Another young woman is passionate about history, set on finding out details of her family’s ancestry and telling the stories of people barely mentioned, if at all, in school history books. A young man from northwestern Africa wishes to attend a competitive university famed for its science programs, to become an expert in his field. An entrepreneurial student plans to be owner and instructor of a martial arts academy. The GED is a stepping stone on the way to other things.

YEP is positive not only because its academic curriculum prepares young people to earn their high school equivalency diploma. It is positive because the people involved in it, the students and tutors, see their mental map of the world expand over time to include new territories never considered before. There are places and situations from which people come that aren’t—and can’t—be deciphered based on what is outwardly visible, on an accent, a hairstyle, a shape or color.