Category Archives: Community Partners

The 30 Year History of Literacy KC

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Literacy KC began as a dream and grew out of a passion to help people.  In 1985, a group of volunteers led by Catherine Matthews perceived a need and created a tiny organization to provide literacy tutoring for adults.  They had become aware of several adults that struggled with literacy skills and felt that there was an answer to help them gain new skills and improve on the limited skills that they had.  With a handful of students, Catherine embarked on a new journey by negotiating the use of a portion of the basement of the Country Club Congregational Church located at 205 West 65th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. She identified several individuals willing to volunteer their time and affiliated with the National Laubach Literacy Council to start a literacy tutoring program for adults.  The affiliation with Laubach provided the organization access to curriculum and materials.  The program was first called Kansas City Laubach Literacy Council.

BENCHMARKS:

1994: 1st Annual Corporate Spelling Bee. The Bee, which remains a significant source of fundraising for Literacy KC, brings teams from corporations in the KC area together to compete in a live spelling bee.  Corporations pay an entry fee and many bring “cheer squads” to compete for the spirit award.  During the Bee, silent and live auctions are held.

1996: For several years prior, the program was operated with an all-volunteer staff. The first Executive Director was hired, as well as a full-time Program Coordinator.

2000: The Literacy Works program was established. In this program, Literacy KC worked directly with corporations to place literacy tutoring skills programs on site at each corporation.  The rationale for the program was that increased literacy skills could increase productivity and reduce turnover for the company.  The strongest partnership was with Truman Hospital.  However, there were two factors that led to the eventual discontinuation of the program: first, many people were reluctant to come to this “volunteer” tutoring program at their place of work because of the stigma associated with an inability to read.  Second, the hospital eventually revised their hiring practices to require a high school diploma and evidence of ability to read, which nearly eliminated the potential student base on site.  The program continued until approximately 2007.

2006: Office relocated to 211 W. Armour Boulevard. It is significant to note that at the time of the move, the organization was paying $1,000 per month in rent to the church and the new monthly expense would be approximately $5,000.  The board approved the move based on information that $50,000 had been raised to support the move.  However, all of the needed financing was not actually available to Literacy KC and the increased expenditure quickly began to prove a challenge. By the end of 2006, the board was called on to make a cash infusion to make payroll.

2008: Near demise. In the summer, Interim Director Cliff Schiappa and Board President Mark Schweizer called a meeting to discuss the current standing of the organization.  In the year prior, board members had pitched in financially in order to keep the doors open and to be able to continue paying staff.  The Bee, although successful in its own right, was not enough to fund the programs and other funding was not coming in as anticipated. As there was no apparent “relief” in sight at that time, the discussion of possibly closing the doors of Literacy KC ensued.  A handful of board members were almost ready to do so, however there was not enough agreement to go ahead with this drastic measure.

Earlier that year, Interim Director Cliff Schiappa had crafted a grant proposal for the Human Foundation.  It was shortly after the above mentioned meeting that it was learned the organization was a finalist for this potential $100,000 grant.  In the end, Literacy KC did not win the overall grant but as one of the three organizations among the finalists, received $10,000.  This money was enough of a “shot in the arm” to keep the board motivated to move forward.

Fall 2008-2011: Staff was realigned to the following: Executive Director, Full-time Program Manager, Open Doors Coordinator, Part-time Tutor Trainer, Part-time Volunteer Coordinator, Operations Manager, Marketing/Communications Specialist [Note: titles may not be exact.]  The first Open Doors grant was developed and the program was funded.

2010: Metropolitan Community College – Penn Valley and a trial student tutoring program began on campus with the college providing the space and Literacy KC providing a classroom instructor and volunteer tutors.

Fall 2011: Formal start of the GEARS program at MCC-Penn Valley. Gillian Ford was hired as the GEARS Coordinator.  During that year, the student identification process was honed and the classroom/tutoring process was fine tuned. Finances remained an issue and board members again infused personal money at the end of the year to ensure bills, payrolls and holiday bonuses were paid.  During the strategic planning process, the board discussed the organization’s significant financial needs, the large number of adults needing the organization’s services, and the unwanted tag that our organization was the “best kept secret in Kansas City.”

2012: New Executive Director Carrie Coogan was hired & Gillian Ford Helm became Director of Programs. During the next year and a half (among many other changes), the organization’s accounting was contracted to Support KC, the lease was renegotiated, and employee health insurance bid out. Carrie and Gillian together reorganized every aspect of Literacy KC’s operations. Through research into adult literacy and reading acquisition, coupled with the success of the GEARS classroom-based program and in-depth analysis on the shortcomings of the one-to-one model, it was determined that a program overhaul was necessary in the evolution of Literacy KC programming if the organization wanted to truly increase numbers served, improve student progress, prove effectiveness, and affect change in our community.

A significant multi-year grant was won from the William T. Kemper Foundation that was the vote of confidence needed in order to leverage dollars from other funding sources in support of the program changes. The next two years brought research, a thoughtful education of Literacy KC supporters on the coming changes, internal administrative improvements, and an infusion of energy and community support into the renewed Literacy KC.

2013: Focus began to zero in on data, outcomes, and program effectiveness. A data consolidation project migrated all data into a single database and allowed valid recording and reporting. The beginning of the Literacy KC VISTA program (through CNCS) supported internal stability and capacity building through the addition of full-time cost-effective staff members.

2014: Literacy KC launched The Impact Initiative, a communications and identity effort to do a number of things: First, the continued diversification of student programming; second, to raise awareness about adult literacy and the visibility of Literacy KC; third, to work with community partners to leverage resources and broaden reach; fourth, to continue to build a strong infrastructure; and finally, to work with our constituents toward a paradigm shift away from one-to-one tutoring toward a classroom-based, instructor-led, tutor-supported, and community-based model called Ticket to Read. 2014 also saw the launch of the Let’s Read Family Reading Program and a major investment from United Way in the form of a substantial multi-year grant.

2015: Launch of the Ticket to Read program. It gave tutors and students a peer group, reinforcing the benefits of social and peer-to-peer learning; it provided relevant, dynamic, and appropriate curriculum; students access academically and geographically appropriate classes; and achieved strong outcomes through trackable metrics.

The first Fund Development Manager was hired, and this investment brought exponentially valuable returns. Literacy KC won the UMB Big Bash award, along with our second multi-year William T. Kemper investment. Partnerships included the Kansas City Public Library, Mid-Continent Public Library, Kansas City Parks & Recreation, Kansas City Public Schools, & more. We also became founding members of the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Coalition, and launched Career Online High School program, a nationally unique partnership with Mid-Continent Public Library and Kansas City Public Library that offers students the convenience of an online platform to earn a fully accredited high school diploma with an attached career certificate.

To mark the organization’s complete transformation and herald in the new era of Literacy Kansas City, the organization began a re-branding process, which also coincided with the 30th year of incorporation of the original Literacy Kansas City.

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On April 28,2016, the new Literacy KC brand was revealed.

2016: At the 2016 Spelling Bee, the new and improved Literacy KC was revealed. The new logo highlights both the different facets of literacy – reading, writing, math, and digital skills – while representing the diverse community that plays a crucial role in building a legacy of literacy in our community and changing lives beyond words. The open doors invite you in as a student or supporter, and the books represent the boundless information and opportunities available through literacy.

To get involved with Literacy KC as we continue to build on our history, visit literacykc.org or call (816)333-9332.

*This is not meant to be an exhaustive, all-inclusive history of the organization, but rather an overview of some of the major events.*
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Filed under AmeriCorps VISTA, COHS, Community Partners, Corporate Spelling Bee, For Students, For Tutors, For Volunteers, Fundraisers, Programs & Services, Uncategorized

Program Overview: Career Online High School

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Literacy KC, in partnership with The Kansas City Public Library and Mid-Continent Public Library, is pleased offer a fully accredited, online high school program to selected, qualified adults via Career Online High School (COHS). We offer a small number of scholarships to adult learners 19 years of age and older who apply and meet the criteria established by our selection committee.

The COHS curriculum is offered entirely online and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The program pairs students with Academic Coaches who are available via phone or email to help navigate curriculum options and monitor success.

In addition to a high school diploma, students will also navigate a career track, earning a certificate in one of the following areas:

  • Childcare and Education
  • Certified Protection Officer (Security Officer)
  • Office Management
  • Certified Transportation Services (Trucker/Commercial Driver)
  • Homeland Security
  • General Career Preparation
  • Retail Customer Service Skills
  • Food Service and Customer Service Skills
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Student Tierra at the COHS launch in January

Literacy KC and partner institutions offer in-person study groups, social gatherings and feedback sessions to complement the online learning experience over the course of the year. Students who lack devices or connectivity may be eligible to use dedicated space and equipment at Literacy KC or one of our partner institutions for study and class attendance.

To be considered for the program, applicants must be over 19 years old, have a library card from either The Kansas City Public Library or The Mid-Continent Public Library, and show a willingness and ability to dedicate ten hours a week to coursework.

Literacy KC has 19 students with scholarships for COHS and one student recently became our first graduate from the program! For more information about Career Online High School:

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The Need For Kansas City AmeriCorps VISTAs is High!

Did you know that Literacy KC serves as an intermediary for AmeriCorps VISTAs? Along with managing our 3 amazing Literacy KC VISTAs, we also are involved with managing VISTAS at other organizations in Kansas City. The following sites are currently looking for AmeriCorps VISTAs. If you have ever debated becoming a VISTA, now is your chance to get involved and serve! See more information about these opportunities below:

 

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1. Community Capital Fund – The Community Capital Fund (CCF) is a 501(c)(3) community development nonprofit that supports and promotes innovative and measurable community development by focusing on neighborhood capacity building initiatives that leverage community resources and expertise. CCF works with organizations that strengthen and develop the financial, social, and knowledge capital of Kansas City’s historically under-resourced and under-invested communities and neighborhoods. We do this through the Neighborhood Opportunity Grant Program, Neighborhoods Rising Fund, the annual Community Development Workshop, and the online community project mapping tool, CommunityKC.

The Innovation and Outreach Coordinator VISTA  will strengthen and expand existing programs, enable both organizations to measure their success, and take our organizations to new levels.The achievement of the VISTA will build the capacity of CCF and AltCap and in turn, strengthen our work to support building communities that are economically vibrant with strong and empowered neighborhoods.

For More Information or To Apply: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68487&fromSearch=true

 

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2. Connecting for Good: Connecting for Good (CFG) represents the digital literacy arm of Kansas City’s Digital Inclusion Coalition—public, private, and non-profit organizations striving to make Kansas City the first city in America to actually close the Digital Divide. CFG’s vision is ‘Building Communities Through Digital Inclusion’. Connecting For Good follows a three pronged strategy of connectivity, hardware, and training—offering low cost internet connection service and discounted refurbished computers along with a variety of free digital literacy training classes to low-income residents, non-profits, and community centers serving urban core neighborhoods characterized as the ‘digital divide’.

The Development Coordinator VISTA will generate funding and increase community visibility for our services focused on closing the digital divide. This position manages donor relation activities, creates marketing and appeals materials, and related internal/external communications. Duties include managing the financial sustainability plan developed in conjunction with the CEO, generating individual and corporate donors and long term gifts, responding to telephone and e-mail inquiries; donor appreciation communication; developing and executing fund raising events, writing grants. Professional development training will be provided for this role.

For More Information or To Apply: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68489&fromSearch=true

 

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3. KC Digital Drive: KC Digital Drive’s mission is to make Kansas City a digital leader to improve economic opportunities and quality of life for those who live here. We work toward this mission through three core strategies: bridging the digital divide, driving innovation-led pilot projects with social and civic impact, and working to build Kansas City’s reputation throughout the world by sharing the projects and progress that result from the first two strategies.

The Project Coordinator VISTA will assist with event planning and execution; provide support for project managers, especially in tracking progress, recording metrics, and sharing outwardly project progress; and cultivate cross-channel lines of support for KC Digital Drive’s work, including building volunteer capacity and identifying/pursuing additional funding sources. Particular focus on three KC Digital Drive programs: Code for KC Brigade, KC Coalition for Digital Inclusion, and the Health Innovation Team.

For More Information or To Apply: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68557&fromSearch=true

 

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4. Mattie Rhodes Center: The Mattie Rhodes Center (MRC) and the Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT) have chosen to engage and affect the low income residents of the Indian Mound and Lykins neighborhoods because these neighborhoods are both poised for growth and in need of more direct support.

The Community Engagement Coordinator VISTA will build relationships with neighborhood residents in order to increase engagement with the neighborhood associations with the outcome being increased economic and political power for the neighborhoods. The Community Engagement Coordinator will work with low-income residents, connecting them with services meant to increase financial well-being, economic security, access to affordable housing, financial literacy, and employment. The Community Engagement Coordinator will promote the Urban Homesteading program and other alternative home ownership to increase home ownership in the neighborhoods by low income residents. The Community Engagement Coordinator will identify opportunities for potential programs to be developed in subsequent years.

For More Information or To Apply: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68488&fromSearch=true

 

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5. Jerusalem Farm: We strive to transform our lives and those around us through service retreat experiences, sustainable living and home repair. Our mission is to make ourselves available to the needs of our community. The main way that we do this is through addressing home repair needs and coordinating volunteers from Kansas City and around the country.

The CNAB Coordinator VISTA will be creating the CNAB program from the ground up. This person will be community organizing, educating neighbors, recruiting and engaging CNAB members and volunteers, as well as creating systems for the program to run on well into the future. The CNAB Coordinator will also work with Jerusalem Farm’s Executive Director to develop a fundraising strategy, research and identify funding sources, and write grants/funding applications for this program.

For More Information or To Apply: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?id=68558&fromSearch=true

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact any one of these organizations for more information. You may also contact Literacy KC’s Rachel Henderson at rhenderson@literacykc.org or call our office at (816) 333-9332.

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How Does Technology Affect Low-Literate Adults?

By Sarah Bell, Ticket to Read Instructor and Google Fellow

In the 21st century, it is impossible to talk about literacy without mentioning the digital component. It seems like everything has an online counterpart these days. Most of these provide convenience in our busy lives, such as online banking, bill pay, shopping, Google maps, etc. Of course, without access to the Internet, these can become barriers instead of conveniences, especially when the digital option is the only one. Many of the discussions about bridging the digital divide focuses on alleviating those barriers, helping those individuals who cannot afford the Internet or a device or who do not have the necessary digital skills to navigate. These are important conversations to have, and it is exciting to see how many organizations are working together to break down those barriers.

But what about those individuals who also have low literacy as a barrier? For them, technology might not just be too expensive, or one item on a list of skills they want to learn. Instead, technology becomes yet another thing that has a lot of words and letters that they don’t have the skills to read, or the confidence to navigate.

Before I started as the Digital Inclusion Fellow, I worked at Literacy Kansas City as an adult literacy instructor. I have worked with a lot of students who come to us with a variety of goals and needs. Some have very little reading skills, others need help with comprehension, and many want assistance with their writing. During our orientation for new students, we ask them what their goals are at Literacy KC, including if they have any that are computer-related. I will never forget one student I talked to, who explained that while she understands the value of computers and technology, she needed to focus on her reading and writing right now, so anything digital would have to wait.

Hearing her prioritize her goals in that way stunned me, although I shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course working on reading and writing skills is a tremendous priority for our students. But to go back to my opening statement, 21st-century literacy cannot be detached from its digital component. No matter what a student’s goals are for coming to Literacy KC, most likely they will need to know at least the basics of navigating a computer and the Internet, if not more advanced skills depending on their career and education goals.

Yet, technology barriers look different for low-literate adults. For a dyslexic student who may reverse her letters, typing in a web address can be a daunting task. Missing a symbol or hitting a wrong letter can take you to a completely different location. A lack of typing skills can prevent a student from completing a job application, or creating a resume or letter. One student had to submit a typed essay as part of his application for an online high school program. His essay consisted of all lower case letters with no spaces and punctuation. Similarly to misspelled words, poor grammar, and bad handwriting on a written application, poor typing can determine whether a student is successful on an online form. There are many digital resources and tutorials available online to assist individuals with learning about and navigating the Internet, yet they presume their audience reads at a certain (usually high) reading level, let alone that they have a knowledge of basic computer skills. My student’s statement about not having time to focus on anything digital is significant because I don’t believe we can separate out what we do in the classroom—teaching reading and writing—from the digital components of literacy.

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Represent Student-Interns working on their computer skills.

But technology is not all bad! In many ways technology can be a barrier for low-literate students, but in other ways it can be a tool to help them. Every week in one of my classes, I had a student speak words into his phone to give him the correct spelling while he was writing. We use a reading software program called Reading Plus that helps students with their comprehension and vocabulary skills, but logging on can be difficult for students. One of my older students always needed help getting on the website, although she was able to navigate it just fine after she got there. A few weeks into our term she pulled me over and exclaimed that she had gotten on the website all by herself!

I had already observed many of the positives and negatives of using technology with my students in the classroom, so when I became the Digital Inclusion Fellow, I had a good understanding of what worked, what didn’t, and what we could add to our already existing digital literacy curriculum. Moving forward, we are hoping to get more students using our computer lab. In addition to using Reading Plus, we will be strongly encouraging students to practice typing and to take our 4-week series computer classes, which will teach them how to use online library resources, navigate everyday websites, and learn parts of the Google suite. I believe as we help students break down both sets of barriers, reading/writing and digital, we will see their confidence rise in all areas of literacy.

 

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Literacy KC Assistance Program

By Emily Hane, Programs Manager

One of the most difficult literacy skills to master is perseverance. The ability to come to class consistently, complete daily homework, and turn page after page is critical to improving literacy. Too often, the most dedicated adult learner has his or her studies interrupted, not due to lack of motivation or persistence, but because life gets in the way.

When student budgets are tight, a flat tire can mean two weeks of missed classes.

Volunteers in Action

Instead of sitting back and lamenting the challenges faced by our adult learners, Literacy Kansas City volunteers sprang into action. Less than a year ago, the inaugural meeting of the Student Needs Committee created a vision for helping all Literacy KC students reach their academic goals, regardless of the barriers they face.

The committee began by researching what services are already offered in the Kansas City community and forged partnerships with other agencies that offer emergency assistance or can provide basic needs such as work clothing, help purchasing prescription medication, or food.

Despite the plethora of resources in Kansas City, the Student Needs Committee agreed that there are still major gaps. Our students deserve access to assistance that can alleviate the simplest barriers, like bus passes and personal care items, and thus the Literacy KC Assistance Program was born.

Literacy KC Assistance Program (LAP)

The Literacy KC Assistance Program is a fund that provides direct assistance to our students to alleviate barriers or enhance learning opportunities. Upon tutor or instructor recommendation, students complete a brief application detailing their current financial need and what is required to ensure consistent class attendance.  Applications are reviewed by committee members in a timely manner, so that students have as little disruption to their learning as possible.

Once a request is approved, Literacy KC staff secures the granted item or makes the necessary financial transactions. Students are eligible to receive up to $50 of support to eliminate barriers to class attendance or increase access to learning tools, like purchasing a home computer.

Students Persevere

So far, the LAP has made three grants to students in need. For example, one enterprising student who was able to get rides to class but unable to get home, was granted 24 single-ride bus passes to ensure that he can make it home after hours of studying. This small, direct student assistance ensures that our learners are able to continue to preserver, despite the obstacles that life throws their way.

This volunteer committee and fund exemplifies what we do best: bring people together to support our students.

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New Represent Program Launches 15 Student-Interns Toward Success

“The past is important because it makes me learn.” “The future is about trying to be successful.” “The present is here and I’m going to live it!”

These were thoughts voiced by three of the 15 dynamic, ambitious student-interns in the first cohort of Literacy KC’s new Represent program. The innovative curriculum, which began February 8, was designed by Instructor Phil Denver, Program Development Coordinator Anne Gatschet, and Volunteer Coordinator Kate Brown, to build academic reading and writing skills, career readiness, and confidence in students, ages 16-24.  Represent meets every Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Classes are assisted by five volunteer tutor/coaches, formerly with GEARS and/or Ticket to Read.

“Who would play you in a movie about your life?”

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Represent student-intern groups are joined by five volunteer tutor/coaches.

“Ice-breaker” questions like this were posed for team discussion in the first days of class.  Student-Intern Karahn English responded quickly to this one — Will Smith! Indeed, the outgoing, smart actor is a fitting role model for 16 year old Karahn, one of the first students to enroll in Represent. Karahn was recruited by his enthusiastic cousin Khalif Jones, whose brother Nicodemas Jones has also joined. All attended the Urban Community Leadership Academy, a Kansas City charter middle school forced to close in 2012 due to financial difficulties. The three young men attended a couple of different high schools but adjusting proved challenging.

All three are eager to move forward with their education and work goals. Karahn, whom Phil named “benevolent” in a reading context exercise, is interested in cars and cooking. Nicodemas, whom Phil called “buoyant”, has been interested in technology and construction since a fourth grade metalworking and electrical class. He also loves growing flowers. “Resolute” Khalif is headed for the law profession.

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Represent Instructor Phil Denver is a walking display of creative ideas from the student-interns about how to improve the classroom atmosphere.

All students will be matched with mentors compatible with their career interests. Literacy KC is recruiting mentors now. They will be introduced to the class the week of March 7 and will begin meeting with students once a week for the remainder of the workshop. The mentorship continues with bi-monthly career guidance meetings for a year. Represent will hold dinners through January 2017 for students and mentors to network and socialize. Civic leaders and professionals from diverse backgrounds will make guest appearances in Represent workshops, and give students opportunities for dialogue. Outings to professional and cultural sites are planned around the city.

Part of the Represent workshop is an internship. Students are given assignments that will assist the staff of Literacy KC and other area service agencies. To this end, each cohort of Represent serves on a Young Adults Council, bringing the cultural knowledge of their age group to the planning table to help answer questions about marketing, programming, and recruitment of Kansas City young adults. Student-interns will be paid a stipend of $500 upon completion of the workshop. This offers students the opportunity to earn a letter of recommendation and practice communication skills on the job.

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From left: Represent Student-Interns: Khalif Jones, Nicodemas Jones and Karahn English.

While civic awareness and workforce readiness are the basic themes of Represent, the core practice is literacy. All student-interns must complete 22 hours of Reading Plus outside of class before the 12 week workshop ends on April 27. Students also will write and complete a personal dossier, including a life philosophy statement, resume, cover letter, personality profile, and various writing assignments. The final weeks of the course focus on the financial literacy.

Represent partners with another local workforce readiness program, Culinary Cornerstones, to bring students fresh, healthful breakfast and hot lunch on each class day.  Culinary Cornerstones is a training program in cooking skills developed by Episcopal Community Services. In signature synergistic and community-oriented style, Literacy KC and this innovative culinary program have coordinated an impressive partnership. Huge thanks to Culinary Cornerstones for donating and delivering all meals to Represent.

A second Represent workshop for cohort 2 will begin in June at the same time as Term 2 of Ticket to Read begins.

“If other animals could talk to us, what would they say?”

Nicodemas knew what a bird would say: “I’m ready to fly!”

 

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Enthusiasm Abounds for Term 1 2016: Behind-the-Scenes During Orientation

A full week of Literacy KC program orientation activities drew dozens of students interested in improving their literacy skills and reaching life goals. The result was 156 students signed up for our 2016 Term 1 Ticket to Read classes beginning February 8 and continuing through April 27. A select group of students qualified for our new Represent and Career Online High School programs, both focused on college and career preparation. We can’t wait to see all of these students soar!

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Programs Manager Emily Hane prepares students for registration.

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Student Albert Williams registers for classes.

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Student Jeanine Levy shows her excitement for the new term.

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Instructor Sarah Bell administers a pre-registration test to student Victoria Estes.

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Student Reginald Haynes receives the computer he purchased through Literacy KC’s partnership with Connecting for Good.

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Student Rayonica Hervey registers for class.

Photography by Eric Diebold, Literacy KC Board Member

 

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