Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Student-based literacy organization seeks to transform Austin schools

Elizabeth Aguilar-Garcia

From queer literacy events at the Austin Public Library to organizing relief funds for families experiencing homelessness due to a fire, UT’s Students Expanding Austin Literacy helps young kids throughout the city develop and hone their reading skills.  

Beginning as a Liberal Arts Honors class project, Students Expanding Austin Literacy (SEAL), expanded over the course of the past several years to partner with Austin ISD schools to help improve reading levels, specifically in typically underserved communities. They do this by sending UT students to volunteer with elementary schoolers to help build their reading skills. 

Sonia Singh, a neuroscience fourth year and SEAL president, said she joined as a freshman after looking for organizations and after attending a presentation by the former president. 

“When I was a freshman, it was hard to join orgs because of COVID,” Singh said “(SEAL) really interested me. I didn’t have a lot of experience with kids, but I really cared about equity and the education system.”

Teachers SEAL has worked with continue to invite the organization back, which Singh said she knows reveals the positive impacts on the kids. 

“One of our mottos actually is that we don’t change statistics,” Singh said. “We show our kids that they don’t have to become one.” 

Sofia Pham, a psychology third year and SEAL vice president, said volunteering with SEAL makes a difference not only for the students learning to read, but also for the volunteers. 

“After (the volunteers) would come out of the one-hour experience with their volunteer buddies, (they were) gushing and talking about everything that their (students) had accomplished,” Pham said. “You could see this passion rising in them throughout the session.” 

Pham said she’s felt SEAL’s impact since her very first student.

“She had just come here from Afghanistan. … It struck me how different her experience was from mine. I grew up in an immigrant family as well, but I was born in the U.S. … For her to be so young and have to switch to a completely different culture so quickly, you could tell it was a very jarring change for her,” Pham said. “I always admired the way she grasped onto her culture and her roots, and the way she was so excited to tell me about it. Whereas when I was younger, I definitely remember suppressing my traditions.” 

As a member of the social committee, Isabella Douglas said the organization’s work goes beyond the regularly-scheduled weekly readings at local Austin area schools. 

“There was a project where we built one of those (take a book, leave a book) libraries,” Douglas said. “Sometimes elementary schools will ask us, ‘Do you guys want to help us?’ and it’ll be something at their school like volunteering.” 

While Douglas said she initially joined the organization to make a difference in the Austin community, she found that working with the students taught her a lifelong skill. 

“The power of patience,” Douglas said. “They’re not gonna get it right away and that’s okay. Having someone who’s patient and breaking through to them can go a long way.”

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