Improve Our Communities by Promoting Literacy
By Hayden MacLachlan
Imagine being isolated in a dark room, unable to leave for more than 15 minutes at a time, and having to relearn rudimentary skills like reading and writing. This was my reality. My name is Hayden MacLachlan. I am a senior at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School in Nashville. This year, I have become involved in a community service project through my senior capstone class. I am a person that values learning and intellect, so I began brainstorming project topics that incorporated these aspects. The year-long project stems from a driving question: “How can we improve literacy rates among low-income youth?” You may be wondering how I narrowed down my ideas to this one specific question… here is my story.
Fighting through the darkness
After the summer of 2016, a series of concussions left me homebound for 12 weeks. I was diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome – the long-lasting effect of multiple concussions. I was unable to attend school, stuck at home alone, unable to leave a dark room for more than 15-minute stints, and I slept for 18 hours a day. After being injured, I could no longer do school work without the assistance of another person. I could not independently read or write. I had chronic headaches, light and noise sensitivity, and extreme fatigue. My independence was taken from me. Throughout the course of the 2016-2017 school year I had to relearn simple cognitive processes.
Socially, I had been an outgoing extrovert, thriving off interaction with others. My friends could not understand why I was not interacting socially, academically, or emotionally in the same way anymore. Their lack of understanding drove me to further isolation. As a result, emotions piled up: anger, low self-worth, embarrassment, fear, apathy. Who I had become was far from who I used to be, I was lost.
Before my brain injury, I saw myself as an independent student. I was smart, diligent, and known for achievement. Things came easy to me, and I took it for granted. Simple tasks in school such as writing a paper or focusing in math class now are much more difficult than they once were. My experience opened my eyes to see that everyone’s capacity for learning is different – school does not come easy for all. I did not realize how much effort some people must put in to achieve.
Transforming my experience into action
Motivated by this experience, I have created a project to combat underperforming literacy skills. The project is composed of four components: (1) a research paper, (2) a volunteer placement, (3) a product, and (4) a portfolio. I drafted the research paper to help answer my driving question. The volunteer program I work through is the Christ Church YMCA Youth Literacy Program. Currently, I work every week tutoring two students, which are underperforming, with regard to their literacy development. The curriculum is catered to each child’s individual needs and we work at a pace comfortable for them. The program is offered at no cost to them. The children we serve are typically from the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, come from homes where English is not the primary language spoken, and/or live in single-parent households. These factors are evidenced by studies done through the American Psychological Association, the Children’s Literacy Foundation, and The Jumpstart Foundation.
The product portion of my project is the construction of ‘Little Libraries’ to put up around low-income neighborhoods. A Little Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box filled with books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share. After collecting donations for building supplies, I will construct the physical libraries with the help of a family friend. Next, I will be hosting a book drive through my school. Concurrently, I will be reaching out to local businesses/community organizations to find locations willing to host the physical libraries. By March of 2018, I hope to place the libraries throughout Nashville, at predetermined locations that demonstrate low literacy development, utilizing data available about the respectively-zoned public schools. Each stand will also contain flyers and contact information for the YMCA Literacy Program.
Join me in providing support
Due to my personal experiences, I feel very strongly about educating youth. More often than not, students are blamed for their underperformance in school. They may be passed on by teachers too inundated with bureaucratic requirements to give them needed extra attention; the students lack support that could bolster their skills within the home and they have insufficient exposure to appropriate programs that help wane the educational gap. As literacy skills are the foundation for all learning, it is of the utmost importance that we focus on strengthening these skills in our children. Literacy skills are fundamental to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, and active participation in local and global social communities.
My goal is to raise $500 total, going toward the building supplies for three libraries. By supporting the Little Library Project you will be providing books to children that have limited access to them, promoting the importance of literacy as a foundational skill, and helping to bridge the literacy achievement gap between children living in poverty and their counterparts.
I’m also seeking partners to facilitate installation of the “Little Libraries” – if your business, organization, and/or community center is interested in having a Little Library installed at your location, please email or call my friends at Be About Change:
MLK Student-led Scholarship Fundraiser
In addition to the literacy project, Hayden, along with her MLK peers, are fundraising for the first student-led MLK scholarship fundraiser. Read more at the link below.