Next Door, Marquette partner to boost childhood literacy

Kara Poppe arrived at Next Door in September of 2018. Her task: create a new cohort of Early Literacy Fellows supporting children during the most important developmental years – from birth to three.

“By having the Early Literacy Fellows in the classrooms, we hope to increase more one-on-one interactions and reciprocity back and forth with the children to facilitate their brain development,” Kara explained.

Kara is leading this effort as a Trinity Fellow from Marquette University. The Trinity Fellowship dispatches Marquette graduate students to nonprofit organizations in Milwaukee where they gain leadership experience in community building by spearheading efforts to advance the organization’s cause.

Kara launched a pilot program at Next Door with three Early Literacy Fellows in October 2018. Today, there are 14 fellows – all Marquette University undergraduates who volunteer up to three times a week. With training from Kara and Next Door staff, the volunteers support classroom teachers for two hours each visit with an emphasis on building a child’s language and literacy skills.

“The Early Literacy Fellows are narrating their actions, singing songs with the children, and reading books to them. They are also doing fine and gross motor activities to help the children develop skills so they can later hold their own book or hold a pencil,” Kara said.


Miranda Spindt – a Marquette freshman in the Burke Scholars program – is one of the original three Early Literacy Fellows.

“I’ve always done service but never something like this – working in a classroom with such young children – so it’s really exciting. I’ve really loved working here,” Miranda said.

What’s making the experience especially exciting for Miranda is witnessing firsthand the impact of the work she’s supporting in the classroom.

“I remember one day I walked in and one of my kids ran up to me and said, ‘I have a book,’ and he had never said that to me before – a full sentence!” Miranda said.

Miranda says this experience at Next Door will stay with her long into the future. She hopes to pursue politics and influence early childhood education policy.

Kara says building advocacy for the work of Next Door is part of the goal of her program. She’ll continue leading the Early Literacy Fellows through the spring of 2020.