The Learning Advantage, LLC was created by N.C. A&T alum Shatoria Whiteside. The program was established in 2020 amidst the height of the pandemic and aims to teach fundamental literacy skills to all people from pre-K to adulthood.
In addition to The Learning Advantage, Whiteside is also the Executive Director of the organization Read, Empower and Distinguish (R.E.A.D.). R.E.A.D. is a non-profit organization that assists underserved communities through workshops and programs. These programs organized by R.E.A.D. aim to alleviate some of the literacy disparities that many are faced with due to a lack of resources and exposure.
“We empower [people] through literacy and beyond so that they can break cycles of poverty and change the trajectory of their lives [for] generations to come,” Whiteside said.
R.E.A.D. offers literacy workshops for both students and their families. Tutoring sessions are also available for mothers and fathers that did not graduate from high school but have a desire to obtain their GED.
While attending N.C. A&T, she studied Education. Transferring during her sophomore year, her experience at the university played a tremendous role in her career today.
“The culture, staff and pulse of A&T pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Whiteside said. “It empowered me to embrace my talents and also my shortcomings and understand that they were both needed to become who I was destined to be.”
Whiteside graduated with a B.S. in Education in 2015 shortly after having her son. She originally entered the university in 2004, however, after facing many obstacles her journey was slightly delayed.
“Obstacles and barriers prevented me from completing school when I desired to,” Whiteside said. “My life now serves as a testament that with hard work, and resiliency, nothing is impossible.”
Prior to having her son, she worked as a teacher assistant for Guilford County Schools. After having her son, she decided to stay home to take care of him until he was 4-years-old. During that time, she earned her Masters’s of Education as well as worked as an educational consultant.
Whiteside began the Learning Advantage, LLC after realizing how important literacy and comprehension skills are. She began teaching her son when he was 2-years-old how to read. Now at age 5, he is reading on a third-grade level.
Seeing the success and benefits of teaching her son how to read and comprehend at an early age, she knew it was important to share with others. During the pandemic, she would host Facebook live sessions where she’d display many of the lessons she and her son would go over.
“The need became huge with kids being out of school due to covid restrictions,” Whiteside said. “When I saw how much [literature] and the ability to read and comprehend opened up his world at such a young age, it was something I had to share with others.”
The program and its services not only cater to children. She also has programs for adults that struggle with fundamental literacy skills. She explains how many adults have been passed along through the education system, and even graduated, but remain illiterate. The program also serves them to give them a better chance at opportunities and a quality of life.
“There are quite a few adults who aren’t strong readers,” Whiteside said. “The misconception with adults with literacy challenges is that they are from low socioeconomic statuses. We serve people who are very well off, but just need additional support in that area.”
There are four services offered by the program: the Learning Advantage, the Parent Advantage, the Community Advantage and the Literacy Avenue. Each service targets a different area but ultimately has the same goal to ensure success to everyone.
Through the Learning Advantage, participants are able to interact with professionals one-on-one. It ensures that each person going through the program can receive the support they need to be successful.
Through the parent advantage, parents are trained and equipped with the tools they need to help teach their own children. After Whiteside worked with her own son, she realized the difference it made in his life and wanted to equip other parents with the tools they needed to do the same. Especially for parents with children of color.
“Statistics say that boys of color who don’t become proficient readers by third grade are more likely to end up in prison and poverty,” Whiteside said. “Each day my staff and I work hard to make those statistics something of the past.”
The community advantage is how the organization gives back to the community. Whiteside and her staff work to train different institutions, school systems, daycare facilities and many other institutions on how to efficiently teach their students how to read.
“I’m currently at a school where 97 percent of the population cannot read,” Whiteside said. “We should be outraged. The programs and systems that are set in place for children of color don’t always reach them as effectively as other races, but we do each day at The Learning Advantage. I want to give that to as many of our people as possible.”
The literacy avenue slightly differs from the three previous services. It is an 8-week workshop that is held several times throughout the year aiming to serve underprivileged communities. Through the literacy avenue, the staff work to help communities see a measurable growth in the community’s literacy skills. This service is also free for all who attend.
Overall, Whiteside hopes that those who go through her program leave feeling empowered and confident in who they are. Being a lifelong learner herself, she hopes that each person learns that they can overcome any obstacle as long as they apply themselves and do their best.
“I hope that they understand that because they overcame the barriers of literacy, that they are able to overcome anything in life as long as they apply themselves, and give it their best shot,” Whiteside said. “But above all, [I hope] that they feel the love put into our efforts to serve them.”
The Learning Advantage operates in all 50 states and abroad, and is open for students beginning in Pre-K through adulthood. To learn more about the Learning Advantage LLC and its opportunities, be sure to like them on Facebook.