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    Where Are They Now? The Continued Journey of ILA 30 Under 30 Honorees (Part 3 of 4)

    BY ILA STAFF
     | Jun 21, 2024

    30under30_NoYear_w600As we enter the final weeks of the submissions period for our 2025 30 Under 30 list, we are taking a look back and reconnecting with some of the inspiring individuals from around the globe who have been recognized on our previous lists. These young visionaries were celebrated for their extraordinary contributions to literacy, and we are thrilled to share their journeys since joining the 30 Under 30 ranks.

    In this four-part series, we are sharing Q&As with past honorees that offer a look into their personal and professional journey. We are exploring how being named to the ILA 30 Under 30 list impacted their careers, the paths they have taken in the years since, and the valuable lessons they have learned along the way.

    Through these conversations, we aim to not only celebrate their successes but also to gather their insights and advice for other emerging literacy leaders. If you know someone who belongs on our 2025 list, then submit a nomination today.

     

    SimpsonMuhwez_w240

    Simpson Muhwezi (2021)

    Founder, Wandiika Literacy Initiative Kampala, Uganda

     

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    Personally, the 30 Under 30 honor was so humbling. It validated my work and method of using stories to develop children’s creativity. It fueled my passion for literacy development and really opened my mind to new ideas. I learned much from my fellow honorees too; their impressive diversity and wealth of knowledge and experience helped me see different perspectives and it has greatly inspired me. Professionally, the honor amplified my voice as an educator and gave me an even bigger platform to share my knowledge and advocate for literacy.

    Can you share some highlights of your professional journey since being recognized by ILA?

    Not long after my ILA honor, I was named to The New Vision newspaper’s Top 40 Under 40 List, an initiative that recognizes outstanding Ugandan leaders under the age of 40 who are excelling in their careers and are impacting society positively. This was another vote of confidence in my work.

    Have there been any significant challenges you've faced in your work since being recognized by ILA? How have you overcome them?

    The honor came at the time when the world was experiencing extreme COVID levels. In Uganda, schools were closed for almost two years. This was a serious challenge to the story competition which originally received submissions physically. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the 2020 edition. Even when activities resumed in 2021, they dragged thanks to the continued emergence of COVID variants and persistent shutdowns. Faced with difficulty in meeting their target audience physically, we decided to use social media. Participants could submit their entries virtually. This turned out to be even more advantageous as it eliminated the distance barrier and saved us time and costs. We have been using this option since then.

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?

    First of all, I would like to commend them for their great service! What they are doing is vital for the next generation. Secondly, I encourage them to be as open-minded as possible. They should continuously improve their knowledge and skills because the learners’ needs keep changing. Putting their learners at the center of their work and involving them at all levels is a great way to develop the latter’s confidence and skills. Learning can be so much fun when the learners are not pressured and they feel their contribution to the process matters. Lastly, there is always room for some stories! Stories are not only enjoyable but also a great way to inspire creativity and a lifelong love for learning among learners.

    How do you see the future of literacy education evolving, and what role do you hope to play in that?

    Thanks to the work of incredible organizations like ILA, I see a bright future. I envision a future with more inclusivity and diversity in literacy education. A future where no learner is left behind. Where educators have the necessary technical tools and support to do their work excellently. A future where children, in Uganda and elsewhere, have improved access to learning, support, and culturally authentic reading materials. Where learners are active participants in the classroom as opposed to being spoon-fed by their teachers. As a storyteller and educator, I hope to continue creating captivating stories for young audiences and inspiring children to tell their own. I hope this will foster a love of reading and writing among them—skills that will transform their lives and communities.

     

    HaleighKlaus_w240

    Haleigh Klaus (2023)

    Instructional Literacy Coach, Canadian Valley Technology Center
    Oklahoma, U.S.

     

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    Personally, receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impacted me by helping me realize the difference I am making in my community. When I started in my position, I knew I wanted to do everything in my power to encourage a love for literacy in the communities I serve, but through self-reflection and the recognition from ILA, I realized I truly was making the difference I had aimed for. This leads into the professional impact receiving the 30 Under 30 honor had on me; realizing the difference I was making truly pushed me to keep going and be the best I can be—to keep shooting for making a difference in students’ lives!

    Looking back, how has the recognition from ILA motivated you to continue your efforts in advancing literacy, and what future goals do you have in this regard?

    Since being honored, I have been moved to an all-district position and now work with students at all three campuses. I am enthusiastically expanding my efforts made at my home school to the entire district—little libraries, district book clubs, teaching about the literacy portion of the driver’s permit test, etc.

    Can you share some highlights of your professional journey since being recognized by ILA?

    My professional journey has changed drastically since being recognized by ILA. Where I once covered one campus, I am now covering three! I am getting to expand my efforts to students in two different counties here in Oklahoma. I am also an adjunct professor now at a local community college—Redlands Community College. My favorite class to teach, by far, is the College Reading and Writing course; this course is taught concurrently with Composition I and aims to ensure student success in Comp. Teaching College Reading and Writing is amazing because not only do I get to see students drastically improve their writing skills, but also I get to watch students nurture a love for reading and writing that they tell me was not fostered previously. Since being recognized by ILA, I’ve also become more involved with the Oklahoma Literacy Association and Education Services Special Populations (a division of Oklahoma Association of Career and Technology Education); I serve as a board member for both associations, and this year, I am being recognized as Education Services Special Populations’ New Teacher of the Year. To put it simply, I love what I do, and I will always be a voice for fostering a love for literacy!

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?

    Teach with grace! Whether it be grace for your students or grace for yourself, we all need a little grace from time to time. And lead with passion. I whole-heartedly believe that my passion for literacy education is what has led me to be as successful as I am in making a difference in others’ lives. Grace and passion allow me to connect with students on a more personal level and to fiercely advocate for literacy in my communities.

     

    MatthewPanozzo_w240

    Matthew Panozzo (2019)

    Assistant Professor of Literacy, University of Memphis
    Tennessee, U.S.

    Looking back, how has the recognition from ILA motivated you to continue your efforts in advancing literacy, and what future goals do you have in this regard?

    Receiving this recognition helped me see the larger team of literacy professionals promoting reading, writing, thinking, listening, and viewing in communities around the world. Connecting with that team, even in small ways, has helped me think differently about instruction, curriculum, and pedagogy. It’s also been a great opportunity to learn how literacy professionals of all ages have engaged in the work over their lifetimes. There are so many ways to be involved.

    How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated in your work in literacy?

    It truly is through the relationships I form with students, community members, professors, researchers, etc. Anytime I’m able to talk about the power of stories, I’m reminded of why I pursued getting involved in the state-affiliate of ILA, Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE).

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?

    Fuel your passion and find your people.

     

    OluwaseunAyobamiOti_w240

    Oluwaseun Ayobami Oti (2015)

    Postdoctoral Fellow, Clemson University South Carolina, U.S.

     

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    Personally, the 30 Under 30 honor I received in 2015 as part of the inaugural class made me feel like my work in the field of literacy in the Nigerian space was worth it. This honor served as a seal of approval from an internationally recognized organization, which boosted my morale and inspired me to do more.

    Professionally, I believe this recognition contributed to other opportunities for me. One was gaining admission into a PhD program in Literacy, Language, and Culture, despite having an academic background in communication.

    Looking back, how has the recognition from ILA motivated you to continue your efforts in advancing Literacy, and what future goals do you have in this regard?

    I have come a long way in my efforts to advance literacy since being recognized by ILA. I continue to innovate and organize literacy activities for children, including Literacy Clubs, Literacy Clinics, Readers’ Fun Club, Friends and Fun Club, Summer Reading Challenge, Summer Reading Clubs, and most recently, Yoruba Club. Some of these activities have been featured in ILA’s Literacy Now blog and Literacy Today magazine.

    Beyond organizing literacy programs for children, I completed a PhD, served as the director of Clemson University’s America Reads (a literacy organization), written peer-reviewed papers, coauthored a book chapter titled “Bolstering Reflective Practice Through Digital Tools in an Online Practicum,” and copyrighted a book titled “Teacher-Child Parent (TCP) Writing Collaborative Notebook.” I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Clemson University.

    After completing my Postdoctoral Fellowship, I plan to work in a literacy research institute. Also, given my vast experience, expertise, and passion, I will set up an organization dedicated to providing consultancy services to parents, preschools, and elementary schools on best practices in reading and writing, leveraging my copyrighted book.

    Can you share some highlights of your professional journey since being recognized by ILA?

    In the same year I was recognized by ILA, I was awarded an Associate Fellowship by the Royal Commonwealth Society in the United Kingdom for my impressive work in literacy. Receiving both recognitions in the same year inspired me to continue to do more.

    Other major highlights of my professional journey include the following:

    A partnership with the award-winning author Kathy Brodsky, who I met at the ILA 2016 Conference. Our work together was featured in national and international media in 2017. In 2022, I invited Kathy as a guest speaker to Clemson University’s America Reads end-of-the-year celebration event. I also facilitated the donation of 90 copies of her book to each child in attendance. 

    Served as the director of the America Reads Program at Clemson University from 2020–2023. I introduced new initiatives that allowed for a smooth and more effective running of the program. This includes the implementation of an individualized curriculum for students, library supervision, book check-out forms, a coordinator-in-training program, daily tutor reports, site supervision reports, and the e-newsletter series. This position allowed me to work with parents, teachers, tutors, and children in the United States, and contribute to the development of children's literacy skills. It was a rewarding experience.

    Served as a judge for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition, the world’s oldest international school writing competition, in 2021 and 2023.

    Completed my PhD in 2023. My PhD thesis was title “Supporting Preschoolers’ Early Writing Through Parent Teacher Collaboration: A Design-Based Study.” This study had and has continued to have a tremendous impact on both teachers and parents. For example, my dissertation has been read in 23 countries, and a resource I copyrighted from this dissertation is currently being used by parents and teachers.

    How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated in your work in literacy?

    Being a literacy advocate is a passion and life calling for me. I think about the lives of the children I can influence, and it always spurs me to action. Working with children is a matter of urgency; they need to be able to read and write at the right time so that they do not fall through the cracks amidst the rigor of learning in upper elementary grade levels. That's what keeps me inspired and motivated in my work in literacy.

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    ILA Honors New Voices in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

    BY ILA STAFF
     | Jun 18, 2024

    Themes across the winning books include friendship, identity, cultural heritage, environmental awareness, social justice and resilience. These books offer readers imaginative and complex narratives that explore the depths of human experience, providing opportunities for reflection, inquiry and engagement with both personal and global issues.

    Selected from more than 300 submissions from around the globe, this year’s winners also represent a remarkable array of new voices, each contributing significantly to the richness of children’s and young adult literature.

    The 2024 award winners are as follows:

    Primary Fiction

    • Winner: Ruth Whiting for Lonely Bird (Candlewick)

      Ruth-Whiting_w269 LonelyBird_w450 Whiting crafts a unique narrative where two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds interact seamlessly. The story follows Lonely Bird, a paper drawing navigating a three-dimensional world, who demonstrates bravery and friendship in rescuing a fellow paper character from a vacuum. This complex and imaginative tale invites readers to explore its depths repeatedly.
    • Honor: Kevin Johnson for Cape (Macmillan)

      KevinJohnson-author_w269 Cape_w450 Johnson tells the poignant story of a young boy who uses a red cape to shield himself from the memories of his deceased father. Through beautifully rendered illustrations and a narrative that captures shifting emotions, this book offers a touching exploration of grief and the healing power of remembering joyous times.

    Primary Nonfiction

    • Winner: Jessica Lanan for Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider (Macmillan)

      JessicaLanan-author_w269 BackyardJumpingSpider Jumper provides an enthralling close-up look at the life of a jumping spider. Through detailed illustrations and a narrative that captures the spider’s dramatic daily activities, young readers are encouraged to explore their own natural surroundings.
    • Honor: Shannon Earle for The Penguin of Ilha Grande: From Animal Rescue to Extraordinary Friendship (Charlesbridge)

      shannon-earle-author_w269 ThePenguinofILHAGRANDE_w450 Earle recounts the true story of Seu João and Dindim the penguin. This heartwarming tale highlights the impacts of oil spills, the importance of conservation, and the extraordinary friendship between a man and a penguin.

    Intermediate Fiction

    • Winner: Zach Weinersmith for Bea Wolf (Macmillan)

      ZachWeinersmith(au)_w269 BeaWolf_w450 Bea Wolf, a graphic novel, is a modern reimagining of the Old English epic Beowulf. This inventive and engaging tale follows the adventures of Bea Wolf, a warrior defending childhood freedom against the antagonist Grindle. The book's creative storytelling and striking illustrations make it a standout in middle-grade literature. 
    • Honor: Malia Maunakea for Lei and the Fire Goddess (Penguin)

      maunakea-malia_269w LeiFireGoddess_w450

      Lei and the Fire Goddess is an epic coming-of-age story set in Hawai'i. It follows Anna as she navigates her heritage and identity, ultimately embracing her cultural roots to rectify a mistake involving the fire goddess Pele. The novel skillfully blends Hawaiian cultural elements with themes of friendship and self-discovery.

       

    Intermediate Nonfiction

    • Winner: Willie Mae Brown for My Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement (Macmillan)

      WillieMaeBrown-author_w269 MySelma_w450 Willie Mae Brown’s memoir offers a poignant and personal perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. Brown’s childhood stories, set against the backdrop of significant social change, provide a compelling look at both the loving solidarity of her Black community and the stark realities of segregation and racism.
    • Honor: Katharina Weiss-Tuider for Mission: Arctic: A Scientific Adventure to a Changing North Pole (Greystone Kids)

      Katharina-Weiss-Tuider_w269 MissionArctic_w450
      • Weiss-Tuider chronicles a groundbreaking 13-month expedition to the Arctic. This richly illustrated book offers fascinating insights into the challenges and discoveries of polar research, encouraging readers to reflect on their environmental impact and the future of our planet.

    Young Adult Fiction

    • Winner: Angeline Boulley for Warrior Girl Unearthed (Macmillan)

      AngelineBoulley-author_w269 WarriorGirlUnearthed_w450 Boulley delivers a gripping coming-of-age mystery. Protagonist Perry Firekeeper-Birch navigates her rich Anishinaabe heritage while investigating the disappearance of young women in her community. This compelling story highlights critical social justice issues, making it a thought-provoking and essential read for young adults.
    • Honor: Ari Tison for Saints of the Household (Macmillan)

      AriTison-author_w269 SaintsoftheHousehold_w450 Saints of the Household is a powerful narrative of survival told through the alternating perspectives of two brothers coping with an abusive father. This innovative and deeply moving story explores themes of resilience and brotherhood, offering a unique and impactful reading experience.

    Young Adult Nonfiction

    • Winner: Sarah Myer for Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story (Macmillan)

      SarahMyer-author_w269 Monstrous_w450 Monstrous is a graphic memoir detailing Myer’s experiences as a South Korean adoptee in rural Maryland. Through vivid illustrations and a narrative that tackles themes of identity, racism and self-acceptance, their memoir empowers young readers to embrace their authentic selves.
    • Honor: Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge for Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself (Lerner)

      Monica Edinger-author_w269
      LesleyYounge-author_w269
      LonelyBird_w450 Nearer My Freedom is a retelling of Olaudah Equiano’s life story, using found verse to make this historical narrative accessible to young adults. This poignant and educational book highlights the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade and the resilience of those who endured it, making it a vital addition to any library.

    “Selecting the winners from such a talented pool of authors was a challenging but incredibly rewarding process. The chosen books stood out for their originality, depth and the promise they show for future contributions to children’s and young adult literature,” said Sonja Ezell, chair of the ILA Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards Committee and a clinical assistant professor at The University of Texas at Arlington. “These stories are more than just books; they are powerful tools for fostering empathy, understanding and a sense of community among young readers.”

    Now in its 49th year, the ILA Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards feature several notable names among previous winners including Lindsay Mattick (whose ILA-winning title Finding Winnie won the Caldecott Medal), Juana Martinez-Neal (whose ILA-winning title Alma and How She Got Her Name received a Caldecott Honor and was named a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book), and Jessica Love (whose ILA-winning title Julián Is a Mermaid won the Stonewall Book Award).

    Additional information can be found on the ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards page.

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    Where Are They Now? The Continued Journey of ILA 30 Under 30 Honorees (Part 2 of 4)

    BY ILA STAFF
     | Jun 14, 2024

    30under30_NoYear_w600As we enter the final weeks of the submissions period for our 2025 30 Under 30 list, we are taking a look back and reconnecting with some of the inspiring individuals from around the globe who have been recognized on our previous lists. These young visionaries were celebrated for their extraordinary contributions to literacy, and we are thrilled to share their journeys since joining the 30 Under 30 ranks.

    In this four-part series, we are sharing Q&As with past honorees that offer a look into their personal and professional journey. We are exploring how being named to the ILA 30 Under 30 list impacted their careers, the paths they have taken in the years since, and the valuable lessons they have learned along the way.

    Through these conversations, we aim to not only celebrate their successes but also to gather their insights and advice for other emerging literacy leaders. If you know someone who belongs on our 2025 list, then submit a nomination today.

     

     

    JimmieCOdhiambo_w240Jimmie C. Odhiambo (2021)

    Recent MSEd Graduate/Education and Innovation Consultant
    University of Pennsylvania, U.S.

     

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    The 30 Under 30 honor shone a light on the literacy developments happening in the south of Kenya where I and the Afribuk Society team were working with several communities. It showed the world that communities can come together to see their children literate. On a personal note, this recognition exposed me to multiple resources and individuals within the ILA community that I have stayed in touch with collaboratively and professionally. In addition, the opportunity to contribute to Literacy Today magazine has provided an avenue to share what works and what literacy practices matter and for whom.

    Looking back, how has the recognition from ILA motivated you to continue your efforts in advancing literacy, and what future goals do you have in this regard?
    I am considering doing a PhD to look at how rigorous and evidence-based educational technologies (particularly reading and writing technologies) can reach the hands of marginalized learners.

    Have there been any unexpected benefits or outcomes as a result of receiving the honor?

    As a corollary to the honor, our work as Afribuk Society has received substantial support in the form of tangible (books and educational resources) and monetary donations to further our efforts. We’ve been supported by organizations such as End Book Deserts and KidLit TV and have also received individual support from local and international people.

    What projects or initiatives have you been involved in since receiving the 30 Under 30 honor?

    • BEFIT, Malawian Government education technology project to provide literacy and numeracy content for grade 1–4 in Malawi, 2023
    • Ustawi Survey, an Ustawi Global technology multidimensional poverty tool to identify community assets in six dimensions (education, health etc.) in Kenya, 2021
    • IFERB, an Education Above All Foundation project-based, game-based, and play-based learning approach for contextual and holistic hands-on learning for 4- to 15-year-olds, Qatar, 2022

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?
    I believe in starting where you are, identifying the most marginalized within those contexts. And then start small: one learner, three learners, a community, etc. These small and articulated groups will provide you with rich understanding of the literacy diversity that big groups won’t.

    How do you see the future of literacy education evolving, and what role do you hope to play in that?

    I see, after the hype of AI has passed, the developments in AI could democratize literacy education by supporting multilingual learners around the globe with the opportunity to learn in their own language. What I am working on is ensuring human-centered approaches and partnerships in technology design and validation catalyze this emergence of equitable education technology and innovation.

     

    LouiseBaigelman_w240Louise Baigelman (2015)

    Founder and CEO, Storyshares
    Pennsylvania, U.S.

     

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    The ILA 30 Under 30 honor was the very first significant award I received in my early days of founding Storyshares. Being selected for this prestigious list among so many esteemed peers from around the globe was a meaningful confidence boost for me, and more important, it served as a catalyst for Storyshares as we made our debut in the literacy space: working to build a community and company dedicated to engaging and empowering students who are learning to read beyond elementary school. After receiving the award from ILA, we went on to be honored by Teach for America’s Social Innovation Award, the Forbes 30 Under 30 List, the Milken Penn Business Competition, and the Library of Congress for our innovative work in literacy. The initial recognition from ILA surely contributed to this additional recognition—and to the growth of Storyshares—which today serves millions of students in all 50 states of the U.S. and 180 countries around the world.

    How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated in your work in literacy?

    For me, the most motivating force is getting to see the transformation that happens when reluctant readers discover the joy of reading—when they can finally find stories that resonate with their interests and identities and begin to rethink their identities as readers.

    While this work brings new challenges to overcome each day, it brings new stories of triumph from teachers and students at an even higher rate. Educators tirelessly seek new content and resources to engage and empower their students who are learning to read beyond elementary school, and when they find Storyshares, they are eager to share their classroom success stories with our team. These stories keep us going—highlighting the impact that our books are having on the lives of so many students who have been previously underserved and overlooked. These stories remind us that there is a solution for learning to read in middle school, high school, and beyond, and that our job is to keep making it the best solution it can be, to move the needle for the students we care so much about.

    How do you see the future of literacy education evolving, and what role do you hope to play in that?

    In the coming years, we expect to see the literacy movement turning its attention to those students in middle school and high school who also need new foundations for reading. We hope to broaden, deepen, and extend what works, enabling literacy education to be more personalized and inclusive, leveraging technology to meet the diverse needs of learners while honoring their cultural backgrounds, and ensuring that both the content and the approaches are adaptive to each student’s age, interests, experiences, and reading skill levels.

    We also aim to help close the full literacy loop, all the way from foundational reading to creative writing, to provide access to great books for all students, and to empower them to analyze, question, wonder, and dream. This includes, ultimately, inspiring them to write—to create their own mirrors and windows through storytelling and to share their own voices with the world.

    By bringing together every strand of literacy and engaging students at any and every level, we can inspire a love of reading that will change lives for generations to come.

     

     

    MeaganStassMacDonald_w240

    Meagan Stass MacDonald (2015)

    Instructional Coach, Barrington 220 CUSD
    Illinois, U.S.

     

    What projects or initiatives have you been involved in since receiving the 30 Under 30 honor?

    I’ve been working to help expand our instructional coaching program within my district to provide more personalized professional development and job-embedded support to our teachers. Our instructional coaching program focuses on implementing one-on-one coaching cycles that involve teachers creating student-centered goals, collecting and analyzing student data, and implementing high-impact strategies. Partnering with teachers has been the best avenue to support teachers as they effectively integrate literacy skills across content areas.

    How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated in your work in literacy?

    I’m inspired by passionate educators, ongoing professional development, and the visible successes of our students. As an instructional coach, I’m constantly inspired by the teachers I partner with and build relationships with. Their dedication and determination to help students succeed fuels my own passion. Seeing our teachers’ innovative approaches, resilience in facing challenges, and commitment to student growth is incredibly motivating.

    Having a love for learning is also what keeps me motivated. I continually seek out opportunities to expand my knowledge and expertise. I engage in professional learning communities, attend workshops, and read the latest research in literacy and math education. I’m currently being trained in LETRS to understand the science of reading and best practices for teaching kids how to read. Professional learning keeps me updated on new developments and introduces me to new perspectives and strategies that I can share with the teachers I support.

    Being inside classrooms and seeing the direct impact of instructional strategies on students’ literacy development is particularly inspiring. My favorite moment in my role is seeing students start to succeed because of a strategy we’ve implemented. These moments are powerful and remind me why I do what I do, and how much impact educators have on kids. It reinforces my belief in the importance of our work as educators and energizes me to continue to strive for excellence in literacy education.

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?

    As Jennifer Gonzalez advises, find your marigold! A marigold is someone who supports, encourages, and helps you grow. They are the people around you who are positive, nurturing, and inspiring. These people will lift you when you are down and motivate you to persevere when faced with challenges. Find your marigolds who will be your allies, offering advice, sharing resources, and celebrating your successes. It’s so easy to be poisoned by negativity. Find supportive colleagues who will inspire you to continue learning and improving.

     

    SamanthaBoatengHabadah_w240 2Samantha Boateng Habadah (2023)

    Cofounder, Read 2 Lead
    Washington, D.C. Metro Area and Ghana

     

    Have there been any unexpected benefits or outcomes as a result of receiving the honor?

    Yes! What stands out to me most is the community I’ve found as a result of receiving this honor. I have had the chance to hear/learn from industry professionals, improving my own skills and expanding my knowledge within this space. ILA’s work and community has been especially beneficial for me to take my learnings back to my organization and continue to grow the impact of literacy education.

    What projects or initiatives have you been involved in since receiving the 30 Under 30 honor?

    Since receiving the 30 Under 30 honor, my organization, Read 2 Lead, opened its third library in Ghana. It’s a 4,000-square-foot building located in Kumasi, the heart of the Ashanti Region. Most notably, we are working with Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology to expand our library’s reach and resources. We are working to receive more than 100 students in our library daily.

    We have also launched travel programs in which we travel with individuals from around the U.S. to Ghana to participate in culture-exchange and literacy-sharing programs.

    How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated in your work in literacy?

    I always look back to what I call my “why”—what encouraged me to start this work in the first place, and that is community and impact. I’m driven by our library patrons and students who show up every day, excited to be in our libraries and use the resources we’ve made available. I remember before we opened our first library, we opened the door allowing some primary students into the space; they ran around in such beautiful joy, and I was just so encouraged in the midst of the challenges we faced. I also think back to a former student. We offered him a scholarship to complete his secondary education. Once he completed, he returned to the library, his newly developed technical skills on-hand, to give back to the space that gave to him. These moments inspire me and the work I do through Read 2 Lead.

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?

    Just start! No work is too small or even impossible. Start where you can, within your community, school, family, etc. and go from there. Literacy work is so necessary, so don’t doubt the value of your contributions. Also, collaboration is key! Ask for help. Most times, people are very willing to give it.

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    Where Are They Now? The Continued Journey of ILA 30 Under 30 Honorees (Part 1 of 4)

    BY ILA STAFF
     | Jun 06, 2024

    30under30_NoYear_w600As we enter the final weeks of the submissions period for our 2025 30 Under 30 list, we are taking a look back and reconnecting with some of the inspiring individuals from around the globe who have been recognized on our previous lists. These young visionaries were celebrated for their extraordinary contributions to literacy, and we are thrilled to share their journeys since joining the 30 Under 30 ranks.

    In this four-part series, we will share Q&As with past honorees that offer a look into their personal and professional journey. We will explore how being named to the ILA 30 Under 30 list impacted their careers, the paths they have taken in the years since, and the valuable lessons they have learned along the way.

    Through these conversations, we aim to not only celebrate their successes but also to gather their insights and advice for other emerging literacy leaders. If you know someone who belongs on our 2025 list, then submit a nomination today.

     

    Kathryn Lett_350wKathryn Lett (2016)

    ML Teacher, Townline Elementary School
    Michigan, U.S.

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    Receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA inspired me to continue to be the best educator for my students. The honor was humbling, as there are many educators who could have also received the award. As a result of the award, I had the opportunity to serve on the board for the Michigan Reading Association as well as speak at their annual conference. I also had the opportunity and honor to speak to incoming education majors at my alma mater at their annual conference. Personally, receiving the award gave me the confidence I needed to use my voice in advocating for all students, especially those in marginalized communities.

    Looking back, how has the recognition from ILA motivated you to continue your efforts in advancing literacy, and what future goals do you have in this regard?

    In the future, I’d like to combine my passion, dedication, and years of experience in literacy advocacy to begin a more narrowed focus on educational policy. I have started to apply for different fellowships which align to this professional growth goal. I’m excited to see where they may lead.

    Have there been any significant challenges you've faced in your work since being recognized by ILA? How have you overcome them?

    The most significant challenge I’ve faced in my journey as an educator is burnout. A couple of years ago, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed (during the height of the pandemic) and had lost the passion which had previously elevated me in my career. I decided to take time off to rejuvenate and refocus myself so that I could be the teacher that my students deserve. I traveled the world taking care of people’s animals, including two sheep farms. By expanding my horizons and trusting my needs, I was able to return two years later with a newfound understanding and passion for the career I had worked so hard to build. It is my hope that other educators can be brave enough to take care of themselves, too!


    SaurabhAnand_800wSaurabh Anand (2021)

    Assistant Writing Center Director, University of Georgia
    Georgia, U.S.

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    The 30 Under 30 honor from ILA was a pivotal moment in my early career as a language scholar. This esteemed recognition not only reaffirmed my fervor for researching the intersection of multilingualism and tutor pedagogy but also catalyzed a profound personal and professional transformation. As a multilingual and a writing tutor, I often found myself in a unique position, with few peers around me who could relate with me, linguistically or rhetorically. ILA’s recognition provided me with the platform to pause, reflect, and research how to reshape the current U.S. educational landscape for collective academic development, particularly for the benefit of multilingual writers and writing faculty/tutors.

    Can you share some highlights of your professional journey since being recognized by ILA?
    As a recognized researcher by ILA, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to collaborate with a global network of literacy researchers and advocates who value multilingual teaching practices and are committed to creating a socially sustainable world. These connections have inspired me to explore how my literacy research can promote global humanities interaction via education, empowering individuals to express their thoughts beyond an English-only environment, fostering critical thinking across cultures, and recognizing one indigenous practice. 

    What projects or initiatives have you been involved in since receiving the 30 Under 30 honor?

    Since receiving the 30 Under 30 honor, I have been actively involved in conducting ethnographic and interview studies in writing center studies. In 2023, I led an interview-based study with writing faculty, administrators, and tutors at Ashoka University and OP Jindal Global University in India. This research, which was a direct result of ILA’s recognition, led to my appointment as a guest researcher at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany through the 2024 Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst research grant (often known as the DAAD research grant). This grant provided me with the opportunity to delve into the literacies of multilingual writing center tutors, who are pivotal in helping other multilingual writers express themselves across languages and mediums. My research aims to identify strategies that American writing centers could adopt from multilingual writing centers outside the North American context, thereby contributing to the global advancement of writing center practices.

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?
    I advise my contemporary educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field to collaborate with people outside academia and their colleagues so that those members of society and their experiences can be centered, too. Additionally, ensure your work does not stay limited to the academic community. Instead, it travels in popular media platforms so that people who cannot access formal education can be centered and inspired and learn from your educational motivations and teaching. Write op-eds about your teaching experiences and goals. Such steps allow those who do not have access to formal education to be inspired and learn from your educational insights and teachings.

    How do you see the future of literacy education evolving, and what role do you hope to play in that?

    Not too long ago, the landscape of research and pedagogical practices, particularly in writing center studies, was devoid of multilingual tutor perspectives and their experiences within institutional spaces. However, we are now witnessing a significant shift in this rhetoric.

    My work is driven by a commitment to challenge stereotypes of the communities I am part of. I am not interested in simply marking them down, but in understanding why such stereotypes exist within institutions (and beyond) and how these beliefs can be intimidating and demoralizing. For instance, in my recent piece on my South Asian administrative labor, I shared my reflections on my writing center administration practices from a Decolonial Theory perspective. I engage in such pursuits to ensure that the writing center I work in and represent is a home to multiple languages and other social justice movements, and to contribute to the ongoing shift in writing center studies.

    My piece on decolonizing writing center administrative labor can be accessed here.

    My piece on defining and contextualizing metalingual writing center labor can be accessed here.

     

    ColinBloom_800wColin Bloom (2023)

    Cofounder, Libraries for Literacy
    New York, U.S., and South Africa

     

    Have there been any unexpected benefits or outcomes as a result of receiving the honor?

    As part of our work establishing libraries in South Africa, we have applied for grants to help fund the library buildings. Grant providers were sometimes skeptical of a teenager-led organization but having been honored as an ILA 30 Under 30 provided credibility and made other organizations take us more seriously. ILA is recognized throughout the community as a leader in international literacy and having your backing has been extremely helpful and beneficial to our work. In addition, ILA resources and the ILA network have been enormously valuable.

    How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated in your work in literacy?

    Seeing the impact of the libraries on teachers, students, and broader communities is what inspires us and keeps us motivated. Each year we return to volunteer at the school libraries where we see first-hand the progress of students’ literacy. It is incredibly rewarding to work with a student who is struggling with basic words, and then a year later they are reading you a book! At one of our libraries, a student’s mother worked as the cook. She was observing us work one-on-one with her daughter and started crying as her daughter read her first words. We often think of that mother as we plan a library or return to South Africa to work with the students.

    What advice would you give to current educators or literacy advocates who aspire to make a difference in the field?

    The South African human rights activist Desmond Tutu once said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Literacy is a huge challenge that can seem overwhelming, but we have tried to tackle it “a bite at a time.” I would encourage my peers to take this approach. We can’t change South African literacy overnight, but every school library we establish has the potential to change the lives of the hundreds of students at that school. It also impacts the lives of the surrounding community as the libraries are also used for adult literacy classes. We have seen students learning to read at the library and then teaching their parents to read. Every person who learns to read will in turn also read to their siblings and eventually, their children. Together, this helps to break the cycle of illiteracy.

     

    Bhawana Shrestha

    Bhawana Shrestha (2015)

    Cofounder, My Emotions Matter
    Kathmandu, Nepal

     

    How did receiving the 30 Under 30 honor from ILA impact you both personally and professionally?

    The award not only recognized my past achievements but also shaped my future endeavors, driving me to contribute significantly to the realm of emotional literacy in education. At 25, I was at a crossroads, figuring out my path forward. The recognition motivated me immensely, affirming that my efforts in education were valuable and appreciated. Being acknowledged for my work as a teacher bolstered my confidence. It was a powerful validation that encouraged me to continue my efforts in the field of education. Most of all, the honor inspired me to delve deeper into a specific area that I was passionate about—emotional literacy in education. It provided the impetus to dedicate my career to this cause, aiming to make a meaningful impact on students’ and teachers’ emotional and social well-being through emotional literacy.

    Can you share some highlights of your professional journey since being recognized by ILA?
    Since being recognized by ILA, my professional journey has been marked by several key highlights which have collectively shaped my journey, driving me to continue advocating for emotional literacy in education:

    • Mentoring adolescents: I started focusing on mentoring adolescents, emphasizing their well-being and recognizing the crucial role of emotional literacy in their development. This mentoring experience highlighted the significant need for emotional literacy in education, prompting me to explore this field more deeply.
    • Establishing My Emotions Matter: I founded a social enterprise, My Emotions Matter, dedicated to promoting social-emotional learning in Nepal. The organization aims to help the education sector understand and nurture emotional literacy skills.
    • Echidna Global Scholar: In 2022, I was honored as an Echidna Global Scholar by the Brookings Institution for my contributions to emotional literacy.
    • WOW Women to Watch: In 2023, I was recognized as one of the WOW Women to Watch by a renowned national magazine in Nepal for my impact work in education.
    • Completing PhD in Education: I completed my PhD in 2023, developing a model to help educators nurture emotional literacy among students. This model focuses on supporting educators in enhancing their emotional literacy skills.
    • Ongoing efforts: Based on our research and experience so far, we are now focused on an emotional literacy campaign that supports public school teachers of Nepal, particularly women, in enhancing their literacy skills in their personal and professional lives.

    How do you continue to stay inspired and motivated in your work in literacy?

    A key strategy that has helped me is building strong empathetic connections with others in my field and those I mentor keep me inspired. Understanding their needs and seeing the impact of emotional literacy in their lives fuels my motivation. Similarly, continuously learning and developing new skills in emotional intelligence helps me stay engaged and enthusiastic about my work, as nurturing these skills has been beneficial in my own life as well. Most of all, having a supportive network of colleagues, mentors, and peers who share similar values and goals helps me stay motivated and inspired.

    How do you see the future of literacy education evolving, and what role do you hope to play in that?

    The future of literacy education is poised to evolve significantly by integrating emotional literacy alongside traditional literacy skills. Emotional literacy, which involves understanding, managing, and effectively using emotions, is becoming increasingly recognized for its crucial role in comprehensive education. These are essential skills that help students navigate personal and academic challenges effectively. As emotional literacy becomes more integral to education, there will be a greater focus on systematic approaches to monitor and support the emotional development of students. This will involve continuous professional development for educators to enhance their emotional literacy skills.

    I hope to play a pivotal role in this evolution by advocating for emotional literacy in educational settings and helping integrate it into curricula, creating and implementing programs that support emotional literacy, and offering training and resources for educators to enhance their emotional intelligence and teaching skills.

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    Dana A. Robertson Named Vice President of ILA Board of Directors

    By ILA Staff
     | May 29, 2024

    Dana-Robertson_500x500The International Literacy Association (ILA) announced the results of the ILA 2024 Board Election today, introducing Dana A. Robertson as the newly elected vice president of the Board.

    Robertson, associate professor of reading/literacy education and the program leader of the Reading and Literacy Education Program at Virginia Tech, brings a wealth of experience and dedication to the role.

    An ILA member since 2005, Robertson has been serving as a member-at-large on the Board since 2021. His new term begins July 1, 2024, and he will assume the presidency of the Board on July 1, 2025.

    Robertson is a former classroom teacher, literacy specialist and literacy coach. His research focuses on classroom discourse and oral language, comprehension instruction, reading and writing challenges, literacy coaching and teacher professional learning. Recognized as an Emerging Scholar by the Reading Hall of Fame in 2013, Robertson has since coauthored and coedited three books, including Innovation, Equity, and Sustainability in Literacy Professional Learning, authored and coauthored four book chapters, and published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, including ILA’s The Reading Teacher and Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.

    Robertson is the current chair of the ILA Research Committee. During his time on the Board, he also served on the National Recognition Commission, Global Committee, and Finance Committee. His commitment to the organization was steadfast prior to Board service. He was a writer for ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals, 2017 Edition and a reviewer for the ILA Certificate of Distinction. He served on the Board Nominations Committee, was a writer for Literacy Today member magazine, a peer reviewer for The Reading Teacher, and a frequent presenter for digital events and annual conferences.

    "At ILA, we have been diligently refining our thought leadership, member resources, and outreach to better serve our global membership, which has expanded member engagement and brought a rich diversity of perspectives to the conversations,” Robertson said. “These initiatives are just starting points that I believe will take root and multiply over the coming years. We must advocate for work that reflects global needs and understandings of literacy teaching and learning. In doing so, we will continue to ensure broader representation and reach.”

    Three new Board members-at-large were also elected for the 2024–2027 term:

    Sonja-Ezell_500x500

    Sonja Ezell, associate professor and clinical assistant professor, College of Education, University of Texas at Arlington. An ILA member since 2014, Ezell is the current chair of ILA’s Children’s & Young Adult Book Awards Committee. She has been a frequent presenter at past conferences and digital events and served as a peer reviewer for Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Her research interests include early childhood literacy, educator preparation, multicultural children’s literature, and social-emotional learning.



    Delilah-Gonzalez_500x500Delilah Gonzales, associate professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Texas Southern University. An ILA member since 2010, Gonzales is also the university’s director of Field Experience and Clinical Practice. Her research interests include literacy and language development.




    Katina-Zammit_500x500Katina Zammit, associate professor, School of Education, Western Sydney University. An ILA member since 2006, Zammit serves on ILA’s International Development in Oceania Committee. She is also president of the ILA affiliate Australian Literacy Educators’ Association. Her research interests include pedagogy for students from low socioeconomic, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, multimodality, and leadership for pedagogical change. 

    Ezell, Gonzalez, Robertson, and Zammit were elected by ILA’s membership during the ILA 2024 Board Election, which was conducted online between April 1 and April 30, 2024. The new vice president and members-at-large will begin their terms on July 1, 2024.

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