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A Day in the Life: Kayla Sylvester ’17 Day in the Life, Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner, REACH, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

“My latest project at REACH has been curriculum development for a workplace literacy program.”

REACH is Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s local literacy council. The organization organizes adult literacy, workplace and life skills tutoring. They assess learners and provide our trained tutors with all the resources they need to be successful with their learners. To help fund the programming costs, REACH runs a fantastic used books store. The store even grants free children’s books to teachers and local organizations with a need, and gives them away to kids in the store. It has a real focus on making literacy and books accessible to everyone.

No day at REACH is exactly the same. One day I will be calling and emailing our volunteer tutor staff to log their hours and provide updates, and the next I will spend the entire day out in the community passing out literature and explaining our mission. Every day I meet new and interesting people, whether it’s new learners (usually low-income, refugee, or immigrant populations), new tutors, retired educators or other nonprofit organizers, because REACH works closely with all the other nonprofits in the area to connect with learners and resources.

Every Wednesday I help at the store, REACH a Reader. There we organize thousands of books for resale and sell them for either $1 or $2. My main focus at the store is our literacy grant program. After getting a request from a local teacher or organization explaining their needs, I sort through our thousands of children’s books and put together boxes based on their reading and interest levels. At the store there is a solid team of volunteers that make the store possible and make the days there fun and interesting.

My latest project at REACH has been curriculum development for a workplace literacy program. REACH is working with Grand Prairie Foods, a food production plant, to provide workplace tutoring to about ten employees for nine months. My role has been to organize tutors for the program and put together curriculum for the nine-month program. I began by looking at what the company wanted their employees to learn and incorporating literacy into it. First, I came up with a scope and sequence for the nine-month program. Then I looked through all of our tutoring materials and pulled relevant materials. After doing that, I got all of the tutors working on the program together and we developed a plan of action. My last step was lesson planning. I developed the first four weeks of lesson plans and materials for the program. This whole process gave me a huge insight into curriculum development and planning, which is great skill for a future educator. I was able to attend the first session and fill in for a tutor, and it was so nice to see all the excited learners.

All in all, this eight-week internship has taught me so much. I’ve gained marketing sales through advertising the book sales; I worked on contacting media, developing and distributing flyers, and developing promotional ideas. I’ve gained skills in volunteer management through the tutors and the bookstore. I’ve also gained skills in curriculum planning and teaching. I really owe this experience to my supervisor, Paige Carda, the executive director of REACH, because she does it all. She is the only full-time staff for REACH. She was in between program assistants when I came in. On top of everything I have been doing, she deals with the board, community relations, and most importantly, grant writing. Out of everything I’ve done, I have learned the most from her, especially when it comes to dedication.

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Hometown: Yankton, S.D.

Major: Politics

Minor: Education

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Co-president of College Democrats
  • Bonner Scholar
  • Campus Kitchen Leadership Team
  • Dance Company

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Volunteer work for a month in Ghana
  • Spring Term Abroad in Sweden
  • Program Intern at REACH Literacy

Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant? In order to take on an unpaid internship with a nonprofit it my home state, I needed money to cover transportation, housing, and general expenses. I spent eight weeks this summer interning at a literacy nonprofit in Sioux Falls, S.D.

How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L? As an education student with plans to go into teaching, it is very beneficial to explore different organizations and positions that incorporate education. While here, I’ve gained skills in marketing, volunteer management and sales, as well as curriculum development.

What was the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience? I had no idea the organization was so small, with one person running everything. Because it was so small, I got a lot of experience in different fields. I really got to see what goes into a nonprofit.

Post-Graduation Plans: I hope to move back to S.D. and teach, not only because it is my home state, but because the state has had a teacher shortage and provides a unique mix of cultures due to the reservations, which will give me abundant opportunities to grow as an educator.


Favorite Campus Landmark: Global Service House. I may be a little biased because I lived there last year, but it is the one place on campus where it really felt like a home. Every year it is a new mix of students, both international and domestic. It forces you to meet new people and the communal spaces really allow for great socialization. It is just far enough from the other housing that you can get away from it all and play a game of foosball or watch a movie in the great living spaces. It is also really convenient that Campus Kitchen is located on the lower level of the house. It is really a space where any organization can meet and bring different people together.

Favorite Lexington Landmark: Sweet Things Ice Cream. Not only is it some of the best ice cream I’ve had, it is a cute family owned shop. My favorite flavor is mint chip in a dipped waffle cone. It being cash-only is also a blessing in disguise, because then I can’t buy ice cream every time I walk by. It makes a perfect treat for when you finish a long paper or an exam.

Advice for prospective or first-year students? Make sure you take at least one service-based learning course (education practicums, poverty and human capability course, etc.). Sometimes as students we worry way too much on what our grades will be and focus way too little on how we spend our four short years in Lexington/Rockbridge County. I love all my classes, but I think I’ve learned the most when I’m out of the classroom and out in the community. The best part is W&L provides the means to do this, so explore and learn.