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    30 Under 30: As Told by Former Honorees

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 15, 2017

    30 Under 30 HonoreesThrough our 30 Under 30 list, ILA recognizes young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries who are leading efforts to overcome the challenges of today’s education field and to advance our vision of a literate world for all. Beyond visibility, 30 Under 30 honorees gain confidence, professional development opportunities, and new and expanded networks. Here’s what some of our former honorees have to say about the experience, in their own words:

    “The ILA 30 Under 30 award is more than a global tag/title or recognition. It has provided me a platform upon which a lot of contemporary programs and reforms can be replicated to Liberia. As ILA members, we now have a pool of resources to ensure our programs are meeting the evolving literacy needs of the people we serve. Our participation as the only exhibitor from Africa at the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston, MA, provided us with important contacts that we continue to leverage as we seek to expand our scale and impact in Liberia.” 

    Benjamin Freeman, 2015 30 Under 30 honoree and executive director of the Liberia Institute for the Promotion of Academic Excellence (LIPACE)

    “For the first time, I attended and presented at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits in Orlando, FL, where I had the opportunity to meet some of my 30 Under 30 colleagues and other ILA leaders. Being able to meet the people behind so many of ILA’s impactful initiatives was empowering. Another life-changing moment occurred for me when Katie Wood Ray reached out to me about visiting my school! She had read the 30 Under 30 article, and she wanted to see our work with English learners and family engagement in action. As a literacy coach, sharing an opportunity with my staff to talk with one of the giants in elementary literacy was a truly incredible experience.

    Being a 30 Under 30 honoree reminded me that age does not define our contributions to community and society. We all have something to share and learn from each other—no matter our ages, our geographic locations, or the nature of our careers in education. We all have something to contribute. We can all be literacy leaders, if we take the time to listen and to act.”

    Melissa Wells, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and assistant professor for the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia

    “After receiving the award, I was asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the Closing General Session [at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits] and spent the subsequent months in a constant state of panic as I prepared to speak in front of a room of highly respected literacy advocates. The entire ILA team was extremely supportive and encouraging to me on the days that led to my speaking. They were so encouraging, in fact, that I felt confident enough to overcome my fear of public speaking. After I finished my session and returned backstage I was met with hugs and cheers.

    There’s a sense of family at the conference. Imagine a convention center full of individuals who share your same heart for empowering students through literacy. The feeling is indescribable and truly inspiring. I was able to connect with other 30 Under 30 honorees and hear their literacy success stories. It’s calming to know that the world is filled with other teachers whose life passion is the same as mine: literacy for all. I am still in contact with my fellow honorees and love seeing what they’re doing in their classrooms. I left conference feeling empowered and truly inspired to continue my work.”

    Katie Lett, 2016 30 Under 30 honoree and elementary teacher of English learners at Kentwood Public Schools in Michigan

    If you know someone who is under the age of 30 (as of March 1, 2019) and who has shown extraordinary dedication to ILA’s mission, we invite you to complete a short nomination form here. All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 1, 2018.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Resources for Talking and Teaching About School Violence

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 14, 2017

    Freeman Reflections When traumatic events happen in schools, such as the shooting that took place yesterday at Freeman High School in Rockford, WA, it can be difficult for educators to know how to start a dialogue with students. The resources below prepare educators to provide the support and guidance students need to process the event and confront their questions and feelings.

    • "The Best Resources On Talking With Children About Tragedies”: Education blogger Larry Ferlazzo’s collection of recommended resources on talking with children about tragedies.
    • 15 Tips for Talking with Children About School Violence: Multilingual tips and resources to help parents and educators talk about school violence, discuss events in the news, and help children feel safe in their environment. 
    • Helping Kids During Crisis: Assembled by the American School Counselor Association, the webinars, websites, and publications on this exhaustive list aid in emotional recovery after a crisis.
    • How to Talk to Children About Shootings: The Today Show’s age-by-age guides help educators and parents in addressing tragedies with children.
    • "Resources: Talking and Teaching About the Shooting in Newtown, Conn.": Published by The New York Times, this article, written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, outlines classroom activities to help educators empower students to discuss the event, write about their reactions, and take action.
    • Responding to Tragedy: Resources for Educators and Parents: Edutopia offers a compilation of useful, informative, and thoughtful resources for helping children through traumatic situations.
    • School Crisis Guide: Created by the National Education Association, this step-by-step guide makes it easier for education professionals to implement effective leadership, crisis management, and long-term mental health support—before, during, and after a crisis.
    • School Violence Prevention: Tips for Parents & Educators: Produced by the National Association of School Psychologists, this toolkit offers advice on how to restore students’ comfort and empower them to play a role in their own safety.
    • Taking Aim at Violence in Schools”: Originally published by The New York Times in 1999 after the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, these lesson plans encourage students to share, through discussion and writing, their feelings about violence in schools, as well as about ways in which such events could be prevented.
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    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Celebrating International Literacy Day in Nigeria With 30 Under 30 Honoree Seun Aina

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 08, 2017

    Magical BooksSeptember 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day (ILD) by UNESCO in 1965 to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies. This year’s theme of “Literacy in a Digital World highlights the challenges and opportunities in promoting literacy in the digital age.

    In Ibadan, Nigeria, a group of students celebrated ILD and embraced this year’s theme of “Literacy in a Digital World” by Skyping with award-winning author Kathy Brodsky from more than 5,000 miles away, says Oluwaseun “Seun” Aina, 2015 ILA 30 Under 30 honoree and founder of Magical Books.

    Aina met Brodsky at the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits. After learning more about Magical Books and meeting the students via Skype, Brodsky donated a complete collection of her books to the organization, which promotes lifelong reading habits and learning attitudes among children and young adults.

    Since the start of the Magical Books Summer Reading Challenge on August 7, Aina’s students, ages 5–14, have been reading Brodsky’s books and writing letters to the author. Aina says this communication has made them more inspired and excited about their own writing and reading projects.

    “She shared with them how she became a reader, how it changed her life, what reading can do for them. She passed on some knowledge that those children will never forget. That’s what I see in the future to create lifelong readers and learners to impact that generation,” says Aina.

    Aina believes societal values and weak government support are among the main barriers to literacy in Nigeria, where the overall adult literacy rate is estimated at 56.9%. Through her work, Aina is advancing her vision of a country that celebrates literacy and ensures that every child can read, write, and speak.

    “It’s not as valued as it should be. I think the challenge is—even the government—they don’t celebrate literacy the way it should be celebrated,” she says. “You have singing competitions being celebrated more than educational programs. If the government officials are not celebrating literacy and don’t appreciate it—how much more can we?”

    Aina’s long-term goal is to establish a communal literacy center with a full library, bookstore, and comfortable reading “nooks” that encourage reading for pleasure.

    “Children who haven’t gotten the essence of reading...they will,” she says. “I’m reimagining a literacy center where students don’t want to leave.”

    In recognition of ILD, we invite you to nominate a literacy champion for ILA’s next 30 Under 30 list. Founded in 2015, the program shines a spotlight on young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries who are leading efforts to overcome the challenges of today’s education field and to advance our vision of a literate world for all. If you know someone who is under the age of 30 (as of March 1, 2019) and who has shown extraordinary dedication to ILA’s mission, we invite you to complete a short nomination form here. All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 1, 2018.  

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of
    Literacy Daily.

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    Celebrating International Literacy Day in Liberia With 30 Under 30 Honoree Ben Freeman

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 08, 2017

    LIPACESeptember 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day (ILD) by UNESCO in 1965 to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies. This year’s theme of “Literacy in a Digital World highlights the challenges and opportunities in promoting literacy in the digital age.

    In Liberia, students are more likely to own a mobile phone than a textbook, according to Benjamin Freeman, 2015 ILA 30 Under 30 honoree and founder of The Liberia Institute for the Promotion of Academic Excellence (LIPACE), a nonprofit that uses data-driven approaches to increase student achievement.

    “Just imagine: For every 27 students in Liberia, there is only one textbook. This means for every 1,000 students, only four students will have the required core subjects textbooks collection,” says Freeman. “It is nearly four times cheaper to own a mobile phone in Liberia than a set of primary school textbooks, and nearly six times cheaper than a set of secondary school textbooks.”

    Without access to these textbooks, students have a very low chance of passing the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exam, which determines if they will pursue further education after secondary school. Typically, only 50% of students pass.

    Enter LIPACE’s latest initiative: iSolve. Still a work in progress, iSolve is Liberia’s first mobile system for accessing educational content. Through text message requests, students will have access to learning materials across all grade levels and core subjects, a comprehensive exam preparation guide, exam practice questions, performance scores, and help from “expert teachers.”

    Freeman hopes iSolve will help fill the gaps in Liberia’s education system, lingering wounds from a 14-year civil war. Despite the country’s progress, schools are still characterized by inadequate infrastructure, insufficient staff and supplies, and outdated teaching methods. The overall youth and adult literacy rates both fall below 50%.

    “In this period of socioeconomic renewal, it is imperative for Liberians not only to reverse the brain drain but also to address the systemic collapse of our educational system,” says Freeman. “I founded LIPACE based on the belief that a nation’s human capital is its most important resource.”

    In recognition of ILD, we invite you to nominate a literacy champion for ILA’s next 30 Under 30 list. Founded in 2015, the program shines a spotlight on young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries who are leading efforts to overcome the challenges of today’s education field and to advance our vision of a literate world for all. If you know someone who is under the age of 30 (as of March 1, 2019) and who has shown extraordinary dedication to ILA’s mission, we invite you to complete a short nomination form here. All nominations must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 1, 2018.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of
    Literacy Daily.

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    Celebrate ILD by Nominating a Literacy Champion for ILA’s 30 Under 30

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 08, 2017

    30 Under 30 On International Literacy Day (ILD), we celebrate the strides we have made, while reflecting on the challenges that remain, in our goal of literacy for everyone, everywhere.

    The good news is that global literacy is higher than ever before—91% of people ages 15–24 are literate. Literacy rates are 13% higher among youth than adults, a sign of progress.  

    The bad news is that these numbers hide major age, gender, and regional disparities; a whopping 750 million adults—two-thirds of them women—still lack basic reading and writing skills.

    In recognition of ILD, we invite you to nominate a literacy champion for ILA’s next 30 Under 30 list. Founded in 2015, the program shines a spotlight on young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries who are leading efforts to overcome the challenges of today’s education field and to advance our vision of a literate world for all. 

    Previous honorees span multiple sectors—from educators to advocates, from app developers to social entrepreneurs, and more—including John Maldonado, an English and special education teacher from Queens, NY, who embraces technology to help students with autism  communicate and develop literacy skills; Shiza Shahid, cofounder of the Malala Fund, a nonprofit that works to secure girls' rights to a quality education; and Andrew Sutherland, founder of the free vocabulary study app Quizlet.

    “Though their passions, initiatives, and backgrounds span wide, every single one of our 30 Under 30 honorees has, in some way, helped deliver high-quality literacy instruction to classrooms, communities, and the world,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “We look forward to meeting the next generation of literacy champions and to sharing their stories with our global community.”

    The next 30 Under 30 class will be featured in the January/February 2019 issue of Literacy Today and across ILA’s platforms (in blog posts, Twitter chats, and more). Each honoree will receive a complimentary ILA membership, be recognized at an upcoming ILA conference, and join a dynamic network of champions.

    Nominations are open to all literacy educators and advocates who are under 30 years old (as of March 1, 2019) and are making outstanding contributions to the field. Click here for the official nomination form, which must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 1, 2018.

    Find the complete lists of previous honorees here, and catch up with last year’s class to see what they’ve been up in our follow-up feature in the September/October 2017 issue of Literacy Today, out now.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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