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NC State Students Help Underserved Students Share Their Stories Through Work with Literacy and Community Initiative

New wolf statue on central campus.

The Literacy and Community Initiative (LCI), a collaboration between the NC State College of Education and its Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, is committed to amplifying the voices of underserved students through publication, advocacy and leadership. Now, they are hoping to extend that mission through new reading guides that accompany books published by student authors.

Through LCI, adolescent students from three community organizations — Juntos NC, Bull City YouthBuild and CORRAL Riding Academy — have released a total of six books over the past several years. Kelsey Dufrense, a graduate research assistant and project coordinator for Juntos, recently helped to develop reading and discussion guides for the three most recent booksA Leg Up by student authors at CORRAL Riding Academy, See Unbroken Pieces Through the Shadows by the student authors of Bull City YouthBuild, and The Voices of Our People: Nuestras Verdades by the student authors of Juntos NC.

Dufrense created guides for students to allow them to share ideas and reflections as they read through each book, as well as guides that include sample lessons and discussion activities for teachers and educators who want to use the books in the classroom.

“I hope that the discussion and reading guides for students will increase accessibility into the student authors’ writing and message and that the guides encourage readers to think critically of their own communities, schools and selves,” Dufrense said. “It would be wonderful to see the student authors’ writings being taught in classrooms to provide greater representation and celebration of the diversity in North Carolina schools.”

Dufrense, a doctoral student in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, has worked with LCI for two years and is one of several NC State students who have created resources related to the organization’s work while also learning alongside the youth authors they mentor.

Desiree McClarnon ‘20, who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in secondary English education, worked as an undergraduate research assistant and CORRAL coordinator during her senior year, providing writing instruction and overseeing the pieces published in A Leg Up.

She said her work with the Literacy and Community Initiative gave her unique preparation for her future as a classroom teacher. Supervising in a non-traditional setting, where participation was voluntary and distractions for students were plentiful, helped McClarnon develop classroom management skills and learn valuable lessons about the importance of establishing relationships and building trust with students.

“When you have these foundational factors, the work becomes more meaningful and genuine,” she said.

In building those relationships, she said she noticed the girls becoming genuinely excited when she would arrive at CORRAL to help them work on their pieces. In addition, the time they spent writing became more productive as the students and McClarnon reached a point where they felt comfortable being open and honest with one another.

“During our exit interview, one girl commented that she now felt like she could write a book in the future, detailing her experiences in the foster care system and interviewing others who were also affected. I was almost brought to tears thinking about how our work made her feel empowered and capable enough to do this type of work in the future,” McClarnon said.

Similar to that student at CORRAL, each of the student authors who have worked with the Literacy and Community Initiative share their personal experiences and use writing as a tool to help them process, heal and advocate for themselves and their communities.

All of the NC State students who have worked with these student authors in different parts of the community believe the books, which highlight the voices of traditionally marginalized and underserved groups, help young people feel as though they are worthy of being heard and inspire others to feel empowered to share their own stories.

“I believe it is important that we truly hear and listen to the voices of adolescents and young adults. Writing and publishing is a powerful outlet for these youth to share their real-world experiences and hopefully offer new perspectives and insights for their readers,” said Nina Schoonover ‘21PHD, a Bull City YouthBuild project coordinator and doctoral student in the Teacher Education and Learning Sciences department in the program area of study in Literacy and English Language Arts Education.