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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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    Philadelphia Nonprofit Empowers Students to Make a Difference

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 06, 2017

    Mighty Writers Protest 1On August 12, a group of mostly African American, Muslim high school students stood in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall, waving handmade demonstration signs. One had drawn a raised, clenched fist, emerging from black bars. Another, a rainbow-colored American flag.

    Four teens read aloud the group’s list of demands, which ranged from fully-funded schools to prison reform.   

    “…Nobody should be treated differently. We are all human, we all deserve the same equal rights…”

    Two hundred and fifty miles away, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a different kind of protest was brewing. Not even 24 hours later, hundreds of torch-bearing white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members would descend upon the city to protest the removal of Confederate monuments across the South. A collision of protesters and counterprotesters would erupt in violence, leaving one person dead, 19 injured, and millions more angry, scared, and sad.

    In the aftermath of tragedies like what occurred in Charlottesville, educators have the capacity to inspire collective action, starting in the classroom.

    That’s exactly what author Peg Kern is doing at Mighty Writers, a nonprofit dedicated to  teaching students ages 7–17 to think and write with clarity. From August 7–11, she led the organization’s first Power to the People! protest workshop.

    Mighty Writers Protest 2The students spent the first two days studying the platforms of historical and modern social movements, drawing inspiration from the Radical Monarchs, ACT UP, Sylvia Rivera, Angela Davis, the Black Panther Party, and Black Lives Matter, among others.

    “I wanted to give them a deeper sense of the legacy of social movements and their place in those legacies.” said Kern. “We’ve always done a terrible job of teaching civic activism. This is critical, critical history, and you can’t step into your historical role if you don’t know who came before you.”

    Kern asked the students to choose an issue they care about and to write a short paragraph expressing their point of view. She helped them weave their paragraphs into a three-page declaration that combined personal experience, history, and fact to assert their collective platform on education inequality, immigrant and racial profiling, sexual assault, police brutality, religious discrimination, mass incarceration, drug sentencing, healthcare access, and LGBTQIA rights.

    The last lines of the declaration read “Welcome to Philadelphia. This is what we believe, what we want, and who we are.”

    On the last day of the workshop, the students marched a mile down Broad Street to City Hall, where four volunteered to read the declaration.

    Juwayriya Abdul-Hadi,15, chose to write about mass incarceration, an issue that has impacted her own family. She said she doesn’t often have opportunities to be heard by her teachers and classmates at Central High School, which enrolls more than 2,200 students.

    Mighty Writers Protest 3“I want people to understand that even though we’re young and people might not listen to us, we have a voice and we need to be heard too because we’re the next generation and people after us have to learn and be educated too,” Abdul-Hadi said.

    Most of the students had never attended a protest previously.

    “This is the first time I’ve actually done something with a group of people, in front of City Hall or anywhere, really, saying what’s on my mind,” said 14-year-old Jayanna Taylor.

    Kern said the students were nervous initially, but became more confident as they marched.

    “They felt substantial,” she said. “They felt significant.”

    Kern said she hopes the students left with a sense of ownership over their city and their fate, and the confidence to participate alongside the adults in their communities in future movements.  

    “I think this is survival skill. It always has been, in this country but especially now. It is necessary.”

    Mighty Writers was founded in 2009 with the mission to teach kids to think clearly and write with clarity. The organization offers free programs for students from elementary through high school at centers in four diverse Philadelphia neighborhoods, including one bilingual location for Spanish-speaking students. Mighty Writers offers daily afterschool academies, long- and short-term writing classes nights and weekends, teen scholar programs, mentorships, College Prep courses and college essay writing classes. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step One: Increasing Funding for Technology and Internet Access

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 21, 2017

    This is the first installment of a four-part, how-to blog series on overcoming the digital divide, an extension of ILA’s latest brief.

    Kids With iPadsInternet access and equipment are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating or growing a classroom technology program. Once the infrastructure is in place, schools and districts will continue to stretch their dollars for maintenance, training, technical support, software updates, and more.

    Despite shrinking resources, savvy educators are still finding ways to bring technology into the classroom—and you can too. Here’s how.

    Reprioritize existing funds

    Seven years ago, Meriden Public Schools, an urban school district in Connecticut where more than 70% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, didn’t have a single device program. Today, all 8,000 students across 12 schools have access to high-speed Wi-Fi, 1:1 devices, online classes, adaptive software, a peer-to-peer tech buddies program, and even full-time technology integration specialists.

    Meriden Public Schools has since been named a District of Distinction by District Administration and one of its elementary schools was named a Model School by the International Center for Leadership in Education. The district was also featured in Edutopia's Schools That Work series.

    Not bad for a district that hasn’t seen an increase in municipal funding in eight years.

    So, what’s their secret?

    If you ask Barbara Haeffner, the school’s director of curriculum and instructional technology, she’ll say it was making technology a priority.

    “Some of our students don’t have any access at home like their peers in the suburbs,” she says. “What we provide them really opens up opportunities.”

    Haeffner says once the district invested in 1:1 devices, they began to save money on textbook, paper, and printing costs.

    “Anytime we were looking to buy textbooks, we said, ‘OK, is there a digital component that can better meet needs of our students?’” she says.

    Apply for grants

    As Meriden Public Schools’ digital transformation started to take shape, the administrators eventually looked for outside funding sources—supplementing their budget makeover with grant money from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and Rise Education Foundation.

    According to Haeffner, the key is finding a grant that matches your district’s specific goals and objectives.

    “Grant funding has to be aligned with the work we’re doing in the district. We really look at the district’s goals and where we’re going, and if it’s aligned, we’re on board. Otherwise we don’t pursue those opportunities,” she says.

    Applying for grants can be a tedious, time-consuming, and continuous process. Schools that are working to build ongoing tech programs may want to consider hiring a full- or part-time grant writer.

    Schools can also save time by taking advantage of easy-to-use grant databases to search for specific types of grants, such as:

    Procure government funding

    In September, the U.S. Department of Education will finalize state accountability plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). According to the Center for Digital Education (CDE), the law authorizes new funding streams that can potentially help states and districts invest in technology. The funding allowances include:

    • A new Title IV block grant program called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program through which districts can use up to 60% of funding for innovative technology strategies;
    • Title II funding for professional development that focuses on technology and the use of data;
    • and Title I flexibility, which provides new requirements and opportunities that could motivate states/districts to concentrate more on technology as part of broader initiatives.

    The CDE published a 40-page handbook to help states and districts unlock ESSA’s potential. Titled “ESSA, EdTech and the Future of Education,” the handbook provides guidance on “how to take advantage of these new opportunities and suggestions on how to integrate them with a broader strategic vision to guide teaching and learning.”

    Fundraise

    Fundraising has come a long way from box top clippings and bake sales. Today, anyone from venture capitalists to Facebook friends of friends can transform a classroom with just a few clicks. Easy, cost-effective, and engaging fundraising ideas include:

    • Crowdfunding: Programs like Donors Choose and Digital Wish eliminate the tedious search process by connecting teachers with prospective donors. Typically, teachers create a classroom profile and a “wish list” of technologies they need for a specific classroom project. Donors then give to the project of their choice. Teachers can also share the crowdfunding page with their personal networks through social media.
    • Recycling fundraisers: Classrooms can also raise money (and help save the environment!) through FundingFactory, a free program that encourages the donation of empty toner and ink cartridges. As the items are recycled, the school earns points that can later be exchanged for educational technology or cash. Check out Scholastica Travel Inc.’s “Awesome Fundraising Ideas: Recycling Fundraisers for School Trips” for a list of similar recycling fundraisers.

    Apply for teacher awards

    Many teacher award programs, such as the NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence, grant winners cash prizes to spend in their classrooms. Check out The New Teacher Project’s (TNTP) list of 10 Awards for Great Teachers for more 

    Secure corporate partnerships

    Digital Promise, a nonprofit authorized by the United States Congress to spur innovation in education and improve the opportunity to learn for all through technology and research, was founded in the strength of public–private partnerships, according to Erica Lawton, senior communications manager. 

    “As an organization, we see this as a community issue,” says Lawton. “You need the partnership of multiple stakeholders to tackle these challenges.”

    Inside Philanthropy encourages schools to look for regional or state employers who “need a robust, smart workforce in your community.” Even mega-corporations such as Motorola, American Honda, and Chevron take community-based approaches to STEM K–12 giving, often offering small- and mid-sized grants in cities where they operate.

    These win-win partnerships are good for both the businesses and the students—schools get a chance to experiment and innovate, while businesses practice corporate responsibility and “road-test” their products.

    Looking ahead

    While charitable grants, fundraising campaigns, and corporate partnerships offer patchwork solutions to the digital divide—Haeffner believes these means are only as strong as the school’s leadership.

    “Our teachers are our most important asset; without them we wouldn’t be able to make these gains,” she says. “Salaries are one of our big expenses because we need people to be there with our students.”

    With teachers’ support, students are not stopping at mastering these digital skills; they are taking their digital learning into their own hands.

    “We have teachers who are truly facilitators now; the students will come in and say, ‘Hey, I found something better,’” Haeffner says. “As our students are becoming more tech-savvy, they are really pushing teachers as well.

    To explore the rest of this four-part series, visit the links below:

    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Two: Critically Frame 21st-Century Skills

    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Three: Provide Resources

    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Four: Advocate


    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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