May Confab Speaker Lineup

chicago literacy alliance - confab

This Month’s Literacy Changemakers


Please join us at the CLA Confab  with presentations from two incredible member organizations: Empower LD and the Schuler Scholar Program.

EmpowerLD is nonprofit corporation that exists to inform and educate the larger public on the nature of learning differences, including the social and emotional impacts. EmpowerLD aims to provide practical, applicable, and actionable information to teachers, parents, students, and professionals so that individuals with learning differences can be fully appreciated and empowered to meet their full potential. Laura J. Thompson, AM, LCSW and Melodee A. Walker, Ph.D. will present on their behalf.

Laura J. Thompson, AM, LCSW
B.A., Psychology
A.M., Social Work

Laura is a native of Illinois. She earned a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1996, followed by a Master’s in Social Work at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. In graduate school, Laura focused on clinical and school social work, which led her to internships in schools in the northern suburbs and the west side of Chicago. Working extensively with students with severe emotional, behavioral and learning disorders helped her to understand the social and emotional impacts of living with learning challenges. Laura joined the Hyde Park Day School, a school for bright kids with learning challenges in 2000 and remained there until opening her private practice in 2010.

Melodee A. Walker, Ph.D.
Vice President
B.A., Elementary Education, Reading Endorsement, University of Northern Iowa
M.Ed., Learning Disabilities (K-12), Calvin College
Ph.D., Special Education, Learning Disabilities and Behavior Disorders, University of Texas

During her doctoral studies, Melodee served on grant-funded research teams at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas examining the impact of multi-component reading interventions, as well as investigating systems and programs as they relate to improved outcomes for students with disabilities across the nation. She also participated in the preparation of preservice special education teachers as an adjunct professor at Texas State University. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Melodee was a teacher in general and special education classrooms across diverse settings for eleven years. She has also worked in the private sector providing remediation, evaluation, consulting, and advocacy services for students with learning differences. Her primary research interests include dyslexia, effective reading instruction for students with reading difficulties, schooling practices, and observation studies, with an eye toward increasing the alignment of prevailing practices with research-based instructional practices.


The Schuler Scholar Program supports high-potential youth to gain access to and succeed at selective colleges. The Schuler Scholar Program believes if students are motivated, have access to academic and enrichment programs while in high school, are well-informed of college options, receive support from a wide network, and secure financial assistance that they will have a better opportunity to attend the college of their dreams. Kareem Mohammad will discuss their work.

Kareem Mohammad
Reading Program Associate

Kareem joined the Schuler Scholar Program in July 2015 as an AmeriCorps Scholar Coach serving Maine Township High School East. Kareem has earned bachelor of arts degrees in Psychology and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. As an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, he uses his knowledge and experience to create diverse and inclusive programs.

As the Reading Program Associate for the Southern region, Kareem collaborates with school staff to customize in school and after school programs, providing thoughtful feedback, in an effort to create innovative curriculums. Kareem lives in the city and in his spare time collects manga (Japanese comics).


After their presentations, attendees will have the opportunity to make announcements and chat with fellow literacy advocates. RSVP today!

March Confab: Meet the Speakers!



This month’s Confab will be held at the Literacenter and will feature two presentations from member organizations Emerald City Theatre and iAchieve Learning. Emerald City Theatre is one of Chicago’s most-attended nonprofit theater companies that also has a signature outreach initiative, One Fund, that provides a free performance and companion book to low-income Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. iAchieve Learning specializes in providing one-on-one tutoring for grades K-12 in all subject areas as well as music instruction for all ages. Read on to find out a little bit more about the speakers from these organizations and register for the Confab today to meet these literacy changemakers in person!


Carly Crawford from Emerald City Theatre


Carly Crawford is the Associate Education Director at Emerald City Theatre where she supervises the faculty, creates curriculum, and oversees programming and outreach partnerships within the education department. Carly received a B.A. in Drama and Literature from Univ. of North Carolina at Asheville and an M.A. in Arts Administration from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Before coming to ECT, Carly worked as a performer, teaching artist, and administrator for theaters throughout the Southeast – in Asheville, Lexington, and Memphis. In 2016, Carly served as the conference chair on the executive board of the Pride Youth Theater Alliance. She was also recognized as a 2016 Young Memphian by the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce.  








Sarah Kochan from iAchieve Learning



Sarah Kochan is t he Owner and Founder of iAchieve LearningWorking one-on-one with students and teachers has been a passion of Sarah’s for many years. She holds a Master’s Degree in Mathematics, was a high school Math teacher for 10 years, and began private tutoring about 11 years ago. Sarah started iAchieve Learning in 2014 and has worked very hard to create a business that offers many different educational services to be able to help as many students and families as possible.  iAchieve Learning started off with one main service, tutoring, and 2 sub-contractors and has now grown to offer 7 main educational services with around 25 instructors. Music has also been a large part of her life and she has been playing the piano for 29 years. Seeing the progress and results that students are able to achieve in a single learning session is amazing and is what inspired Sarah to start iAchieve Learning. She is an active member of the Chamber of Commerce for Des Plaines, Park Ridge, and Mount Prospect, a member of Learning Forward, and the National Association of Professional Women.  Sarah is passionate about teaching, helping others, and making sure every student and educator is provided with an exceptional learning experience.
After presentations from our guest speakers attendees can ask questions, connect with fellow literacy advocates, and make announcements during the open floor. This event is free and open to the general public, so please invite your networks to attend!Learn more. Register for the Confab on March 21st!

The History of Chicago Comics Exhibit Launches at the Literacenter


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Punch Line 

The Evolution of the Chicago Comics into an Art Form

We had a great time celebrating the opening of this exhibit that follows the history of Chicago comics created in partnership with our member organizations the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and the Chicago Review of Books on February 8th!





Photo courtesy of Floyd Sullivan







Such an amazing treat for our Executive Director and the rest of the team to meet Audrey Niffenegger!


Photo courtesy of Floyd Sullivan


Photo courtesy of Floyd Sullivan


Don’t miss The Evolution of the Chicago Comics into an Art Form: A Panel Discussion featuring artists, scholars, and reviewers which will discuss the history of comic books in Chicago, and how the form has evolved over the past century. No need to RSVP; just come by the Literacenter on Thursday, March 22nd, 7-8 PM.

This event is free and open to the public and will feature special guests: Adam Morgan (Publisher, Chicago Review of Books), Michael Moreci (Roche Limit, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash), Stanford W. Carpenter (Rice University, Institute for Comic Studies, Cosmic Underground), and more!


February Confab: Meet the Speakers!



This month’s Confab is taking place at the Weinberg/Newton Art Gallery celebrating literacy, collaboration, and art. Member organizations Designers for Learning and The Chicago Home Tutor will present and give the community the opportunity to hear some of the amazing work they’re doing to improve literacy in Chicago. Read on to find out a little bit more about our speakers and register for the Confab today!


Jennifer Maddrell from Designers for Learning


Confab-Chicago-Literacy-AllianceJennifer Maddrell is the founder and Executive Director of Designers for Learning, a nonprofit with a mission to provide educational resources and service-learning experiences to promote all aspects literacy. Jennifer founded Designers for Learning in 2014 after completing a master’s degree in instructional systems technology at Indiana University and a Ph.D. in instructional design at Old Dominion University.

Before her career transition to the education field, she worked for over 15 years within the insurance industry after completing a bachelor’s degree in finance at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and an MBA at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Jennifer’s passion for education and technology inspired her career transition. She founded Designers for Learning with a dual mission to support underserved educational needs and to provide instructional design students and other volunteers with experiential learning opportunities. Since Designers for Learning’s inception, over 4,500 volunteers have enrolled in service-learning experiences to crowdsource the design and development of open educational resources (OER) for adult basic education programs to help learners with low literacy and math skills. Over 100 lessons designed by these volunteers are available for free to adult educators and their learners in the Adult Learning Zone group on OER Commons.

Founding Designers for Learning has been the most rewarding challenge in her life. Given that adult education programs in the US serve only 1.5 million of the 93 million who could benefit from their services, the motivation to support this enormous underserved need far outweighs the ups and downs of organizing and facilitating instructional design projects that involve hundreds of volunteers.

The best part of her job is connecting those who want to help with those who need it. She traces her passion for education and literacy to her parents. They considered their highest purpose and accomplishment to be ensuring that all four of their children graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A proud “cheesehead” now living in Chicago, Jennifer spends much of her downtime cheering on her Badgers and camping with her husband in southwest Wisconsin not far from where her ancestors settled in the mid-1800s.


Tulin Akin from the Chicago Home Tutor


Tulin Akin has been a school psychologist since 2007, but she left public schools and began working for Chicago Home Tutor in 2014. She loved working with students, teachers and families, but had grown frustrated with the components of my job that took time away from students. She loves so much about the work she does now – she forms deep, lasting relationships with her students and families, she is able to apply best practices and flexibility to address student concerns, and she gets to choose her number of clients and schedule – allowing her to add or reduce supports as she determines is best for the student.

When she’s not working, you’ll usually find her running, reading, cooking, or hanging out with her husky, Chance. She also volunteers every week at Lakeview Pantry, and loves it. She is a voracious reader, on almost any subject, and have been since she was small – she happily loses track of hours on the weekend laying in the sun and reading. This is probably why literacy matters so much to her: it has brought her so much joy and increased her love of learning, and she truly believes it better connects her to others. She wants everyone to be able to experience those positives.

The Chicago Home Tutor was founded with the knowledge that with an attuned and skilled practitioner in their corner every student can make progress towards their academic and social-emotional goals. They specifically wanted to partner with CLA because they share the common goal to equip all people to read- a skill which empowers them in many other areas. They are familiar with the research on the importance of early intervention and firmly believe that with some effective, early support we can make big strides towards completely preventing literacy problems. They are hoping to partner with some organizations to make this a reality.

Learn more. Register for the Confab on February 21st!