The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday December 2nd

Column: The right to literacy, and SCALE's 30 years of service

<p>SCALE Director Mattie McKines leads the organization's effort to advocate for literacy and equity. Photo courtesy of Micaela Campbell.</p>
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SCALE Director Mattie McKines leads the organization's effort to advocate for literacy and equity. Photo courtesy of Micaela Campbell.

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Micaela Campbell is a UNC junior and volunteer with Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education through the Campus Y.

For the past 30 years, the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE) has championed literacy as a tool for individual transformation and as a vehicle for social justice. 

In the fall of 1989, two UNC undergraduate tutors, Lisa Madry and Clay Thorp, joined forces to mobilize and support college students who wanted to address the literacy needs of this country, viewing literacy as a social justice issue. Fueled by the belief that young people could have an impact on literacy, become leaders on their campuses and raise awareness of literacy as a social justice issue, Clay and Lisa founded SCALE.

As Chapel Hill’s academic achievement gap persists, with 70 percent of Black students falling below the college readiness standard, conversations about literacy and educational equity are crucial. At SCALE, we believe literacy is a fundamental human right, extending literacy beyond just reading and writing to also include critical thinking and action.

Increasing literacy skills helps learners achieve their goals and empowers them to be more effective advocates for both themselves and their communities. As a result, literacy is a tool for personal and social transformation and a vehicle for social justice. We promote a participatory, learner-centered approach to literacy in which the power in the program and in the classroom is shared with learners, volunteers and community members. Shared decision making – about lesson content, choice of reading materials or program evaluation – makes our outreach more relevant to individual and community literacy needs.

SCALE has actualized its mission and values through many programs throughout the years. The North Carolina Literacy Corps program, an AmeriCorps affiliate, has supplied volunteers to sites all across North Carolina, providing volunteer management, program evaluation and capacity building. The America Reads and Counts program provides one-on-one individualized tutoring to at-risk students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, supporting tutors with tutor training and access to a library of diverse and representative materials.

Additionally, SCALE is involved in the local community through installing Little Free Libraries in neglected neighborhoods, hosting events to raise awareness about literacy and professional development workshops through our annual virtual Read.Write.Act conferences. While SCALE has a long history of community involvement, it also functions as a bridge between the UNC community and larger Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. As a work-study program, the America Reads and Counts program allows undergraduate students to extend beyond the campus bubble to build community interaction and awareness.

SCALE’s programming also allows students to develop their professional skills and gain career insights. These professional development and career exploration opportunities extended beyond mere time management and communication skills to allow students to develop their passions and personal social justice frameworks.

Shodeah Kelly, a current Teach For America member, credits SCALE for her career choice.

“I chose to teach because of the experience I gained at SCALE," she said. "I gained confidence and learned how to teach under a social justice framework, using my role as an educator to disrupt educational inequities.”

Unfortunately, SCALE’s future is uncertain, due to circumstances outside of its control. However, SCALE still fights for literacy as a fundamental human right, honoring its 30-year legacy. If you would like to participate in this local, state and national effort, please reach out to current director Mattie McKines at

If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email

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