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Meet the Women of LINC: Laura Walsh, Chief Programs Officer

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

What do you do at LINC?

I am LINC's Chief Program Officer. I guide the program team to ensure everyone has the support needed to use their talents to their highest capacity to serve LINC's communities. I ensure that we offer high quality programming that is responsive and intentionally tailored to meet the needs in all of our LINC communities. I guide the team towards best literacy practices aligned with the science of reading and lead with empathy and equity at the forefront of my mind.

How did you get involved in early literacy work?

Early literacy has been part of my professional life since I entered the field. An educator by trade, I started my journey towards early literacy when I thought I would begin my professional career as a teacher. I received a bachelor's from St. John's University in Childhood Education. As the world would have it (and slightly dating myself here), the year I graduated was the year NYC had a teacher hiring freeze, so as I was subbing and looking for more permanent work I decided to start my Master's Program at St. John's where I enrolled in the dual program for a Master's in Special Education and Literacy (Birth-6th grade).

During this coursework I was so surprised at what I did not know. I thought my undergraduate degree had prepared me to teach reading in the classroom, but as my first practicum course professor was sure to tell us eager master's students, we were wrong! As I was completing my Master's Degree I worked as a Director of a Pregnancy Prevention Program in Bushwick. On paper, this might not sound literacy related, however the program was a comprehensive preventative model that focused on sexual health education as well as comprehensive academic support for participants in the program.

I administered many standard literacy diagnostic assessments to my then 9th grade participants and was suddenly faced with a jarring reality. The majority of students I was working with were reading at a 1st-2nd grade level. Many of these students were excelling academically and on the honor roll in their schools. How could this be? I learned that many students were able to mask reading challenges and develop coping skills to complete academic work without reading accurately.

In this realization I became fully immersed in the research of the science of reading and particularly how the brain learns to read, what I found was although the research has existed for decades and has been widely available the most common curriculums and teaching practices did not teach children to read the way science shows us they should. After my Master's program I worked as a founding program manager at a literacy non-profit, the Literacy Trust. Here I was so fortunate to work with a reading intervention program that understood the science of reading and the importance of phonics. I was able to train Universal Literacy coaches while on this team and I was able to lead their practicum piece of the universal literacy initiative. I am proud that today many literacy coaches I have trained are still working in the NYC school system training teachers to teach as the brain needs to learn.

After I had my first child, I found I needed a space that didn't require travel to 3-4 different schools per day and I found a home at DREAM (formerly Harlem RBI). At DREAM I began as their Senior Manager of Elementary Programs, specifically focusing on programs in the out of school time space. This was a phenomenal opportunity, one that allotted me to pilot my own intervention program that, as I might humbly say, bore tremendous literacy gains for students in the program. I also went on to train teachers in our partner schools as well as DREAM's charter network teachers on early literacy instruction.

Near the birth of my second child, I transitioned to a role on DREAM's school leadership team and continued to be faced with the sobering realities of the literacy crisis plaguing NYC, and particularly hitting students of color the hardest.

When I found LINC, I was in love with their preventative model and had to be a part of it. I knew that I needed to expand my influence and use my knowledge to change more lives. LINC's community literacy model inspires me everyday to do this critical work. Literacy is equity, literacy is freedom, literacy is access. It is everyone's responsibility to ensure that our children have the basic human right to read and have the access that reading gives. I am so proud to be part of an organization that allows me to take my passions and place them into action on such a large scale! I wake up daily energized by the privilege I have been given to get to impact the lives of so many children and to work towards my life passions.

How does being an organization run by women inform LINC's approach to educational justice?

LINC's leadership team is a powerhouse of inspiring women. What I liked about LINC from the very beginning was that we understand the power of the parent in the equation of literacy access. We do not strictly focus on child outcomes at LINC, we look at the family, and particularly we look at the maternal parent. We seek to understand the challenges moms in our communities face and our programs, support, and outreach are reflective of our communities and particularly the women in our communities. We understand that a mother's educational access and ability will directly impact that of the child's and so we create programs to support women. I love being a part of this women led team and I feel grateful each day that I get to call these esteemed women colleagues.

Learn more and register for LINC’s latest virtual reading programs. We can’t wait to read with you.


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