SOE News

Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education mobilizes college students to address literacy needs

In 1989, two Carolina undergraduates volunteering through the Campus Y realized that college students across the country were interested in the social justice issues implicit in adult literacy education and that collectively, young people could have a tremendous impact on the field.

Tackling both the need for effective training and awareness raising about equity, policy and advocacy, Clay Thorp (A.B. ’90) and Lisa Madry (A.B. ’90) founded the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE).   Today, SCALE has grown to become the national center for student literacy work in the United States.

Now approaching its 20-year anniversary, SCALE continues to expand its reach and deepen its impact on communities across North Carolina and the United States.

“SCALE’s tradition of student leadership, our focus on social justice and equity, and our commitment to providing resources for effective program engagement continue to guide our outreach,” said Kathy Sikes (A.B. ’83), SCALE’s director since 1998. “While our projects have evolved as our sector has evolved, we have sustained our focus on both practice and the larger social context where practice occurs.”  

Last year, SCALE reached more than 2,000 college students on 175 campuses through funded projects,  the National Read. Write. Act. Conference, and Web-based technical assistance. 

Collectively, programs provided more than 60,000 hours of service reaching approximately 4,800 literacy learners.

SCALE currently administers four programs:

  • America Reads and America Counts at UNC-Chapel Hill, which prepares college students to work as literacy tutors for children in pre-K through fifth grades and math tutors for middle grades students;
  • NC LiteracyCorps ENGAGE Project, which works to increase the capacity and direct service impact of North Carolina’s campus and community-based literacy programs by placing AmeriCorps members in community-based programs and on college campuses and across the state;
  • The National Read.Write.Act. Conference, the only national conference for college-aged tutors, campus faculty and administrators.  This year, the conference will be a “virtual” event to reduce SCALE’s  carbon footprint and to include more participants.
  • Learning to Teach, Learning to Serve, which was initiated in 2006 with a $1.2 million grant from Learn and Serve America to establish a replicable statewide model for infusing teacher education programs with service-learning instruction. The goal is to teach pre-service educators learn to use service-learning techniques in their own classrooms and introduce students to a lifetime of service and civic responsibility.

SCALE’s work with Learning to Teach, Learning to Serve was recognized last spring with a 2008 Engaged Scholarship Award, presented by the Office of the Provost. The engaged scholarship awards are presented annually to honor units of UNC-Chapel Hill that have “performed extraordinary public service and engaged scholarship and/or enabled such service by others.”

SCALE also supports campus-based literacy programs throughout the United States by providing technical assistance through on-site training, a Resource Lending Library of print and video materials, discussion lists focused on child and adult literacy and program management, online training materials, a searchable database of information and a guide to organizing literacy events.

For more information, visit SCALE’s Web site or contact Kathy Sikes at