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Living the work: a brief interview with Community Literacy Initiative Advisory Council member Alyssa Morillo Scheidt

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Alyssa shares about her literacy loves and memories, her community work, and one of the most important things we can do every day
Alyssa Morillo Scheidt and her children at the apple orchard

Alyssa Morillo Scheidt and her children at the apple orchard /Courtesy of Alyssa Morillo Scheidt


Read more about the Student Advancement Foundation, whose mission is to ensure that all Grand Rapids Public Schools students have the tools they need to learn. 

The Community Literacy Initiative Advisory Council is comprised of individuals across multiple sectors, each with a passion for improving literacy, empowering the community and engaging in coalition work. We asked Alyssa Morillo Scheidt, Director of Programs and Communications at the Student Advancement Foundation, to share a bit about literacy as it relates to her work and personal life. 


How does your role at the Student Advancement Foundation inform your participation with the Community Literacy Initiative and vice versa?

My work at the Student Advancement Foundation provides the opportunity to see up close how schools and school libraries are engaging students of all ages in reading. I get to visit those libraries and talk to kids about books and reading. I get to see how they use their school libraries and how that has changed and continues to change over time, with more and more reading being done via electronic means. I also get insight from staff—whether classroom, library or administrative—who across the board just have so much passion for students and for literacy and for coming up with creative new ways to engage students in reading. I think my involvement with the CLI Advisory Council then in turn gives me a broader perspective on where and how literacy touches us all. It underscores the fundamental importance of building a literate community and helps remind me that our role supporting our city’s public school students is a critical piece of that mission.


What is your “literacy dream” for the students you serve?  How can the community help achieve that dream?

My literacy dream for Grand Rapids Public Schools students is that they find that fire that you get when you read something that totally transports you and alters your thinking. My dream is that our students learn to read and learn to love to read and that it becomes a part of who they are as people. The community can help by reading and talking about reading and describing what we’ve read that allowed each of us to find that fire. And we can all be reading to children, somewhere. At home, at our neighborhood schools, maybe with the family who lives next door. It is such a simple, beautiful way to connect with people—we would all benefit from reading with each other more.


How would you describe your literacy journey (experiences, biggest influences, observations, etc.)?

I can't even figure out how far back my memory of my mother reading to me goes--it's in the fibers of me; it was always there. She read to my brother and sister and me, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose and everything by Shel Silverstein. The Velveteen Rabbit was another that she loved and read to us often. We grew up in East Lansing and there was a small bookstore downtown called Jocundry's which was a comfortable, cozy, delicious place to look at books back before that was commonplace. She would take us every Sunday when they'd have storytime for kids in the children's section and she could take those precious few minutes to browse in her own section without the three of us driving her nuts! After the bookstore, we'd walk to Bagel Fragel, and have fresh, still-hot bagels. Later I was a major Nancy Drew fan and my mother was always fretting about why didn't I want to expand my reading horizons a bit! In school my literature classes and those teachers were always my favorites! I loved Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, A Farewell to Arms, Catcher in the Rye. I was a big fan of the transcendentalists too. As an adult I tend to want to read about justice issues and about Latin America.


If you didn't have the literacy skills you currently possess, what would you miss the most?  

I would miss reading to and with my kids. They're getting older so it's already something I miss! But reading to them as babies and as they were growing up was one of my favorite ways to be close to them and share with them. I still try to get them to let me read aloud to them now but there is a lot more eye-rolling involved these days (I just hold the book higher to block out their indignant faces!).


What's your favorite book (or what are a few of your favorites)?  

For fiction, I love The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) and In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez). I re-read that one every year or so. I love everything from Barbara Kingsolver and all Wendy Wasserstein’s plays. I eventually outgrew Nancy Drew but still love Anne of Green Gables which I luckily read with my kids before it was too late! Non-fiction favorites are A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power, What is the What (Dave Eggers) and Left to Tell (Immaculée Ilibagiza). This year so far, I was inspired by 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (Jen Hatmaker) and How Children Succeed (Paul Tough).


What gives you hope regarding literacy in our community?  

Seeing and hearing how much the messaging has changed and amplified regarding reading to kids or with kids every day. It's coming from school, from television characters, it's starting to become ingrained I think. We're helping people understand and accept as a given that it is a fundamental part of caring for and rearing our kids. I know that will have a big impact on kids now and on future generations. 

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