Grantee Spotlight: The Literacy Lab

Colleen Lucas (right) speaks with Wendy Spencer (left), CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, about her AmeriCorps experience with The Literacy Lab in September 2015.

The Literacy Lab partners with communities to help close the literacy gap by embedding full-time, rigorously trained literacy tutors in early childhood centers and elementary schools for one year. Sparked by a former tutor who moved to Kansas City and with the support of several local partners, The Literacy Lab launched programming in KC schools this past August. Ten months later, the program is celebrating many successes of its first year in KC. While most of this success centers on the transformation of the children served by the program, the experience has been transformative for those serving as well. Tutor Colleen Lucas shares her perspective.

What were you doing before service with The Literacy Lab? What attracted you to the program?

I had just left a job at a coffee shop and planned to go into nonprofit administration. An obstacle I ran into was that the only jobs I could get in the field were entry-level and ones that were not challenging to me. The Literacy Lab position provided a higher level of responsibility and opportunity. I was also specifically interested in education nonprofits, and service with The Literacy Lab allowed me to get an inside look at nonprofit work but also direct experience in education.

How were the first few months?

I thought I would be really nervous at first. But after the first week at school, I felt really comfortable there. After the first month, I was hooked on working in a school all the time.


Colleen Lucas (far right) attends This AmeriCorps Life with fellow Literacy Lab tutors at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center in March 2016.

What hooked you?

I enjoyed learning all about the kids. They like to be silly, and they always give you something to laugh about. Seeing them grow and become more confident in their reading was very exciting. Even on stressful days, there was always something positive to look back on. That’s what hooked me. Also, most people in education are humanitarians. Working with people who care about you and who care about kids is really inviting. The staff at Faxon (the school where I served) was really supportive.

How was The Literacy Lab’s training?

The training was awesome! Having never worked in education before, it was great to see what education training looks like, learn the vocabulary and understand how data is used in the field.

What’s next?

Now, I am preparing to be an elementary teacher and have joined the Kansas City Teacher Residency. I will become certified to teach first through sixth grades. A friend and I are also working on establishing a K-12 art education nonprofit program, and we hope to get it up and going in the next year.

What would you say to someone considering a year of service with The Literacy Lab?

Do it! Honestly, it’s a great opportunity. You will gain access to great people and organizations and an opportunity to grow. If you’re thinking of a career in education or nonprofits, this experience will help you make your decision. And obviously, you get to impact KC youth—that’s the most exciting part.

The Literacy Lab is a grantee of the Kauffman Foundation. 

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Sarah Reape

As Program Manager, Sarah Reape leads The Literacy Lab’s program in Kansas City. Sarah is an AmeriCorps alumna who holds bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Spanish and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.