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Spotlight: Literacy KC’s Digital Inclusion Fellow

 

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Sarah Bell, Literacy KC’s Digital Inclusion Fellow, pictured with the other 21 Digital Inclusion Fellows throughout the country.

I just returned from a week-long orientation in Portland, Oregon for Year 2 of the national Digital Inclusion Fellowship, where we, the 22 Fellows, heard from experts in the field of digital inclusion and learned best practices for designing and implementing digital literacy programs. Literacy KC was chosen for the second consecutive year to host one of only 22 Digital Inclusion Fellows across the country. This Fellowship, funded by Google Fiber, places Fellows in host organizations in 11 cities to address how to bridge the digital divide: helping individuals who are not digitally connected, whether that means access to quality Internet, a working and relevant device, or the skills and knowledge to use technology.

From my work with digital inclusion the past 6 months, I have seen the importance of including digital skills and training in our conversations about literacy. Our 21st-century society is technology-driven, which means having internet access and digital skills is a necessity, not merely a luxury. For our students to fully participate in economic and educational opportunities, digital literacy needs to be part of what we offer and teach. Literacy KC has made this an organizational priority, emphasizing that digital is one of the facets of literacy, and it is also starting to be part of discussions on a national level.

These national discussions about incorporating digital training into adult literacy curriculum is important because our students need access to all aspects of educational and economic participation. As you can see from the chart below, more and more people are recognizing the importance of having home broadband, especially within the context of career opportunities and learning.

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With so many things going online today–including job applications, healthcare, school updates, government forms, etc.–it is becoming vitally important that we bridge this digital divide so that no one gets left behind. This includes our students at Literacy KC. As I look ahead to the upcoming year, I am focusing my attention on four areas. My first goal is to better integrate digital skills and training into all aspects of our programming. This primarily includes our Ticket to Read curriculum, making digital skills an integral part of what we teach in the classroom. I will also be providing some specific digital skills training, based on feedback and input from students to ensure we are offering what they need and want. In order to offer a wide array of classes and assistance to our students, I will be developing a Train-the-Trainer program, where I will train volunteers to help carry out these digital programs. Literacy KC could not run without our awesome volunteers, and I am confident I will be able to grow our digital program because of our eager and helpful volunteers. Finally, I will be building our external partnerships within the context of digital inclusion. This will be on both a local scale, with our KC Digital Inclusion Coalition, and on a national scale, in both the context of general digital inclusion initiatives and with adult literacy specifically.

Want to get involved with Literacy KC? Visit literacykc.org or call (816)333-9332 or email Sarah Bell at sbell@literacykc.org

 

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Literacy Kansas City Chosen as Digital Inclusion Fellow City Host For A Second Straight Year

 

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Great news! Literacy Kansas City has been selected for the second straight year as a City Host for The Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) Digital Inclusion Fellowship!

Last year, NTEN announced its first ever Digital Inclusion Fellowship (DIF), in partnership with Google Fiber, which Literacy Kansas City was also chosen for. In an effort to increase digital literacy and broadband adoption in digitally divided communities, NTEN placed 16 Fellows in locally-based organizations in 8 cities across the country.

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Literacy Kansas City is proud to be one of the few organizations in the country to be selected to host a Digital Inclusion Fellowship! (Photo Source: Google Fiber)

This year, Kansas City is one of the now eleven cities to host a Fellow. Literacy Kansas City is honored to be chosen to host one of the 22 total Fellows in the country and excited to continue to develop our digital literacy program!

“NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship is a tremendous opportunity not only for our organization, but our local community as well,” said Gillian Helm, Executive Director. “We’re committed to helping improve adult digital literacy across the Kansas City area and look forward to welcoming our future Fellow this summer.”

“At NTEN, we see the impact that having a digitally engaged community can have on social impact work and want to be sure that every nonprofit and community based organization understands how to be part of the digital world and bring their communities along with them,” said Amy Sample Ward, CEO of NTEN.

You can apply today to be Literacy Kansas City’s Fellow! Applications are now open and interviews may be scheduled on a rolling basis during the application period. Fellow selection may happen before the application’s close date, which is May 13th, so we encourage you to apply today! You can learn more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, the available Fellow positions, and how to apply here.

In addition to adult literacy organizations (7 Fellows) like Literacy Kansas City, fellows will also be hosted by libraries (7 Fellows), organizations that provide affordable housing (3 Fellows), and other organizations that specialize in digital inclusion (5 Fellows). All chosen fellows will attend a week long orientation program where they’ll be trained on digital literacy best practices and work to develop leadership skills.

“As the lead sponsor, Google Fiber will again contribute more than $1 million to help administer the fellowship. Our current fellows have reached thousands of people lacking internet access, trained hundreds of volunteers, and received positive feedback from community members. And with the help of NTEN, we hope to continue our progress” said Andrew Bentley, Digital Inclusion Program Manager, Google Fiber.

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One of our digital literacy class students working to improve his typing skills in Literacy Kansas City’s computer lab.

Throughout the past year, our current Digital Inclusion Fellow, Sarah Bell, has worked with students to incorporate digital activities into Literacy Kansas City’s classes. Our digital literacy program focuses on helping our students feel more comfortable using computers and associated digital resources in order to enhance their literacy skills.

“In the 21st century, it is impossible to talk about literacy without mentioning the digital component. Many of the discussions about bridging the digital divide focuses on alleviating barriers, helping those individuals who cannot afford the Internet or a device or who do not have the necessary digital skills to navigate. But what about those individuals who also have low literacy as a barrier? For them, technology can be one more thing that has a lot of words and letters that they don’t have the skills to read, or the confidence to navigate. However, technology can also be a useful tool, and that’s what we are teaching our students here. 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” said Sarah Bell, Literacy Kansas City Instructor & Digital Inclusion Fellow.

 

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Spotlight on Our Upcoming Bee’s Power Spelling Teams

Cold sweats, dry mouth, memory loss, trembling fingers, difficulty breathing — these are not only possible side effects to some drugs, but also the sensations people often feel before public speaking. Is it any wonder it’s rated the number one fear in life?

Throw in spelling aloud random and challenging words while standing in front of a large group and you might experience a near-trauma!

On Thursday, April 28, at UMKC, 36 people will bravely face and overcome these fears to compete in Literacy KC’s 22nd Annual Spelling Bee and 30th Bee-Day Celebration. Eleven teams, furiously practicing now even as you read this post, are being sponsored by leading organizations that believe in the high value of adult literacy to the community and their own efforts.

Here is what these power spellers say about the importance of adult literacy:

MCPL Spelling Bee PracticeRebecca Maddox, Mid-Continent Public Library

“Our mission is to enrich our citizens and communities through expanding access to innovation, information, ideas, and inspiration. Promoting adult literacy and helping citizens across Clay, Jackson, and Platte Counties find the tools they need to be successful are crucial components of achieving this mission and are vital to the development and betterment of the community. That is why we are excited to partner with Kansas City Public Library and Literacy KC to offer the groundbreaking new program, Career Online High School. Now, qualified, selected adults have the opportunity to earn a fully-accredited high school diploma and gain assistance with navigating a variety of potential career paths – all for free. MCPL also offers a myriad of other free programs and services that support adult literacy, from online resources such as the Adult Education Center from Tutor.com to book discussion groups to community-wide reading initiatives like The Big Read. Our library is proud to offer assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs through Square One Small Business Services and training for those looking to hone their writing skills and share their stories through The Story Center.”

Ingrid Larson, Children’s Mercy Hospital

“Our medical professionals try to help families cope with the daily challenges of parenting children with complex medical needs. That challenge is even greater when parents must face the added obstacle of illiteracy. Parents with reduced literacy struggle with scheduling and keeping appointments and understanding details about their child’s medication regimen and diagnoses, which are often communicated in writing. Organizations like Literacy KC do great work in giving parents and other adults the tools they need to be able to give their children the best care.”

unnamed (1).jpg   Alan McDermott, Andrews McMeel Universal

“Andrews McMeel Universal supplies comics, puzzles and lifestyle features to newspapers; gift and humor books, comic collections and calendars to bookstores and other retail outlets; and supports dozens of aspiring comic artists on our websites. We can’t do any of this without literate consumers to read and enjoy (and buy!) our products. Readers are our lifeblood, and we are delighted to support the efforts of Literacy KC.”

Paul Rosenboom, Midland Loan Services

“We support Literacy Kansas City because every day the organization changes not only the lives of its students, but the families and communities within which they live. Adult students may be able to read a bedtime story to their children, better navigate financial responsibilities, utilize new technology, obtain their GED, go back to school, or change their career path. Students are advanced socially and economically by their new skills and Kansas City as a whole benefits.”

 

Google Fiber Spelling Bee Team Photo.jpgRachel Merlo, Google Fiber

“Being successful online is impossible without the fundamentals of adult literacy. We’re proud of our partnership with Literacy Kansas City and support their efforts to improve access to literacy – both traditional and digital – for our community.”

 

The other Spelling Team sponsors include: The TEAM CHEER WINNER for the last TWO years, Euronet Worldwide; Black & Veatch; Kansas City Public Library/Boulevard Brewery; Multi Service; and our longest standing team celebrating its 20th year of competition, Rotary Club 13. Literacy KC’s own team of tutors and volunteers will also face the Bee’s extreme spelling challenge, all in recognition of 30 years of service toward Literacy for All.

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Introducing Will Orlowski, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer & Ticket to Read Program Coordinator

The fall session of Literacy KC’s Ticket to Read (TTR) classes began September 8. As the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer assigned to coordinate this program for a year, I’m looking forward to sharing my viewpoint about classes, students, events, and the personal stories of success and accomplishment the TTR program is designed to help achieve. It is essential to me that we maintain the individuality of each of our students, so I will be authoring several of the upcoming Student Stories.

My first two weeks as a VISTA have been quite eventful! The process of joining the staff was impressively efficient for the amount of information that had to be handled in a short period of time. My co-VISTA, Lindsey Clark, and I jumped right into the enrollment process, both for new and returning students. This involved a good deal of preparation, both of physical materials (tests, pencils, information handouts) and online data entry, but the payoff was absolutely worth all our efforts. Over the course of the first week I met more than one hundred truly incredible people from all over Kansas City eager to improve their literacy. I met old married couples who had committed themselves to learning to read better together; young men determined to be outstanding fathers; one man very recently from Liberia and his fantastic (and energetic) wife; a dyslexic woman with an inspirational level of confidence despite her past setbacks; and so many more wonderful people.

Our second week featured the beginning of the new students’ Digital Life Skills (DLS) classes. A major aspect of TTR is the promotion of digital literacy, as job success relies heavily on the ability to use and interact with the Internet. The DLS classes, held in our computer lab (generously donated to us by Google Fiber), gave me the first opportunity to meet many of our new students in a group educational setting. We also continued to reach out to several of our returning students; these were people who had been valuable members of our classes and community, and we were lucky enough to re-enroll many of them, ensuring their continued success (and making the LKC staff very happy!).

As the term moves into full swing, my role as TTR program coordinator will begin to take on more of the responsibilities I’ve been tasked with as a VISTA. Student Coordinator Emily Hane and I have already discussed several long-term goals for my year here, which include the streamlining of our data-entry process (particularly of students’ goals) and the inclusion of more start dates for classes throughout the term, giving students more flexible scheduling. Now that fall classes have begun, I will be able to work directly with both executives and instructors to maximize the potential of the Ticket to Read program. Keep reading here weekly, because TTR is headed to some exciting places!

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Will Orlowski, AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer

Will Orlowski joined Literacy Kansas City in August 2015 as an Americorps VISTA. As a VISTA (Volunteer In Service to America) Will is tasked with combating poverty and expanding Literacy Kansas City’s capacity to serve the Kansas City community.  Prior to joining Literacy Kansas City, Will graduated with a BA in English Creative Writing from the University of Kansas. He writes poetry and fiction, and has lived in Denver, Houston, New York, Oklahoma City, Lawrence, and Kansas City. Will is an accomplished writer and has over six years of experience in customer service. He was also the Education Officer of his music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha, for three years while at KU.  Will is an avid sports fan, a passionate Jayhawk, a lover of all things literacy, and truly excited to be a part of Literacy Kansas City.

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