Teens for Literacy: A Literacy Leadership Partnership

Document Type


Publication Date



Poster presentation at National Youth-at-Risk Conference


Over the past three years, I have served as faculty advisor for the project, which is a partnership between Armstrong State University and East Broad Street School, a Title 1 school in downtown Savannah. I collaborate with school counselors, the librarian, the Instructional Coordinator, and the principal to facilitate the program. A leadership team of middle school students in grades 6-8 generates ideas for promoting literacy among their peers and improving school-wide literacy levels. While the students are the architects of the program, I guide our brainstorming and work sessions to put their ideas into action. As the year evolves, Armstrong undergraduate and graduate students are invited to serve as volunteers for various literacy projects. A Shadowing Day is held on campus each year to introduce middle school students to the university experience.

Brief Program Description

Teens for Literacy is a partnership between Armstrong State University and East Broad Street School. A leadership team of middle school students in grades 6-8 generates creative ideas for promoting literacy among their peers. Armstrong students serve as volunteers for implementing research-based initiatives and mentor middle school students as they empower their school community regarding the importance and value of literacy.


Throughout the 2012-2015 school years, Teens for Literacy student leaders at East Broad have implemented the following initiatives-

•Composed and performed play vignettes spotlighting the importance of reading and writing in our daily lives for their school community •Launched a blog with book reviews to promote summer reading among the student body •Welcomed and introduced a Savannah Children's Book Festival author each year to the school community/ created a brochure to introduce their peers to the author prior to the visit/ generated materials to promote attendance at local Children’s Book Festival among their peers •Produced multiple editions of school-wide newspapers with self-selected topics/ distributed newspapers to their peers •Established a pen pal exchange with students in Haiti •Wrote and shared creative writing stories with their peers/ conferenced with a local author on their writing pieces •Created a “reading buddy” partnership between “Teens for Literacy” students and first grade students at East Broad Street School •Facilitated school-wide student participation in library writing contests and video book trailer contests •Inaugurated a school-wide poetry initiative, culminating in "Poem in Your Pocket Day," held in conjunction with National Poetry Month •Generated and distributed family literacy poetry packets throughout grades for National Poetry Month; facilitated letter-writing exchange to poet Brod Bagert

Research-based comprehension strategy intervention think-sheet documentation, Lexile level and CRCT scores, Common-Core aligned writing assessment rubrics, semi-structured interviews with East Broad Street School Teens for Literacy participants’ teachers as well as administrators regarding literacy growth in class as well as East Broad students who are impacted by the program, and motivation surveys have indicated that student participation in this program leads to gains in students' reading and writing skills as well as increased motivation towards academic-related endeavors.


Adolescent literacy is about complicated relationships between emotional- and social-driven adolescents and their visual and verbal-rich environments. Engagement and achievement decline at about the time students transition to middle school (Malaspina & Rimm-Kauffman, 2008). Motivation, or lack thereof, is a primary factor in adolescent learning and achievement (Daniels & Steres, 2011). Teaching practices most effective in encouraging students’ literacy achievement draw upon the power of social relationships (Knoester, 2010) and the creation of motivating learning environments. Simply put, motivation matters. When students are engaged, they try harder. When they try harder, they learn more (Daniels & Steres, 2011). The increasing numbers of Americans who struggle with literacy and the declining engagement of adolescents in literacy tasks suggest our need to rethink our work as teachers in some fundamental ways.

Literacy education has significant social and cultural outcomes, as well as cognitive and behavioral ones. As the children and peers for whom they read and wrote looked up to them, the Teens for Literacy students felt good about their own roles as literacy leaders, something that was new to them. For most, this was their first experience as academic role models. The T4L project underscored the importance of what these students were accomplishing together—they had established themselves as readers and writers and school leaders who had a desire to share the significance of their work with others. These adolescent readers, engaged in a vibrant relational enterprise, remind us that reading and writing are social endeavors that cannot be reduced to mere technical skills (Ivy, 2014). T4L students’ Lexile levels increased over the course of the school year, as evidenced by scores obtained by the school’s Library Media Specialist, but more importantly, Teens for Literacy demonstrated to students that they could learn more and do more than they believed possible.


National Youth-at-Risk Conference


Savannah, Georgia