What It Means to Be an Adult Literacy Advocate

By Jennifer Vecchiarelli

In November 2018, Kara Krawiec became the first ever ProLiteracy Hero.

Kara is an adult literacy advocate  who is the East site coordinator at Seeds of Literacy in Cleveland, Ohio, an organization that provides personalized education to empower adults to succeed in their communities. There are over 250 tutors who currently serve over 900 active students and who help with basic education; GED®, TASC, and HiSET preparation; one-to-one tutoring; unique and digital curriculums and more.

So what does it mean to be an adult literacy tutor? A tutor is a person who can use his or her knowledge, experiences and compassion to empower others to meet their full potential and succeed. A tutor inspires and encourages others to discover their purpose, develop their goals and reach for the stars. A tutor is a hero.

The story below was provided by the staff at Seeds of Literacy.

Kara Krawiec has worked with college students at John Carrol University, tutored high school kids preparing for the SAT and ACTs and has since found her true calling to help adults achieve their dreams and achieve high school equivalency.

The typical “Seeds” student is vastly different from the collegiate students she once taught. But Kara, however, treats each and every student with the same level of respect and provides the same amount of encouragement.

Kara wanted her students to share in her love of reading. However, students at Seeds enter the program with very low reading levels—some as low as a fourth grade reading level. They have very little exposure to the world outside of their poverty-stricken neighborhoods and little to no experience with classic literature or poetry.

Kara didn’t let that stop her, though. She asked her students if they would be interested in joining a special book club. The response was lackluster. Undeterred, she implemented every motivator she could—she asked politely, she strongly suggested and she demanded. She smiled happily, promised it would be fun, cajoled and even begged and bribed. She let them choose the short stories and offered to read aloud to them.

“Just give it a chance! Book Club is the best,” she exclaimed.

The first meeting was attended by three tutors and eight students. A few attendees actually admitted coming only for the pizza and treats, which Kara provided and paid for out of her own pocket.

And then, a magical thing happened.

Soon, Kara wasn’t the only one reading out loud. The students were reading to each other. They were thinking critically and having in-depth discussions. They were reading college-level short stories and plays, expanding their vocabularies and opening their minds. The Book Club eventually read Ten Minutes from Cleveland, a series of short plays by Eric Coble. And amazingly, the award-winning playwright came to speak to them. A bit star-struck, the club members granted him honorary membership and invited him to return.

Members returned to Book Club each week. They began cooking and bringing in treats to share with the group. As their confidence increased, several students started volunteering to read poetry to the class. Others were asked to recite poetry to a sold-out audience for the Cleveland Singers’ Club.

The Seeds model is unique: students work one-to-one with a tutor. But Book Club gave them a support group of their peers. They formed friendships and fellowships and even worked together in the classroom before and after tutoring time.

“Book Club has been inspiring because it helps us enjoy life and fellowship with each other and learn about loving yourself and wanting to make our lives better,” Kara said. “Also, having a chance to laugh and relieve our stress.”

“When I first came here, I thought it would be boring but when everyone read the story [aloud], there was a lot of expression, a lot of laughs,” a member of the Book Club said. “Any story I read, it takes me anywhere I want to go. [In book club] I felt at ease, happy.”

“The discussions of what we read helps with the comprehension of it,” said another member. “And the camaraderie of everyone in Book Club makes it seem less like a club and more like family.”

Finally, another member explained, “Kara taught me things I couldn’t pronounce or understand. She’s helped us speak our opinions.”

But it’s not all about the books and the other members. “They come for Kara,” said Todd Seabrook, a colleague who led Book Club when Kara couldn’t be there. “They didn’t want me. They all wanted her there to lead the discussion. They were relieved when I said she’d be back next week.”

In the six months since the Book Club began, reading levels increased an average of 33% and general class attendance went up, as well. For many, Book Club on Wednesdays is the highlight of their week and the one day they definitely won’t miss school.

Several of the original members graduated, but continue to come to Seeds on Wednesdays for Book Club as often as their schedules allow. With their newfound confidence, other members of the Book Club have also joined the Seeds Student Leadership Committee, encouraging their peers on the path to graduation.

Kara is truly one of those rare individuals. Students want her to be proud of them. Even the most hardened students soften around her. Her enthusiasm for learning is infectious and she is firm in her belief that every student can—and will—succeed.

She may not wear a cape, but she is definitely a super hero.

Kara holds up her award!

A version of this story originally appeared on ProLiteracy’s blog, which can be found here. It has been lightly edited for style.