Face Everything and ReadUP – The Journey of School 56’s Nashia Abdul-Aleem

Adversity presents us with two ways to address fear of the unknown: forget everything and run or face everything and rise. This decision becomes even more imperative when our health is compromised, with moments that often force us to slow down, reflect, and reimagine the course of our futures.

For Nashia Abdul-Aleem, that revelation came following an inevitable double hip replacement surgery.

Prior to her procedures, Nashia worked in the banking industry at various branches throughout the Indianapolis area. She appreciated the relationships she built with clients but realized her fate and change of heart would soon test her ability to continue her career as a teller.

“Reading has always been important to me,” she shared with us during an interview in the halls of Francis W. Parker Montessori School 56 that grew louder with the chatter and laughter of schoolchildren. Lunch had just ended as Nashia revealed how she landed at the Martindale – Brightwood Neighborhood school on the city’s northeast side, the same one her uncle and father attended many years ago as children.

Nashia, already an avid reader, got lost in even more literature while allowing her body to heal following her surgeries. One book she discovered titled, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriett Ann Jacobs, came from none other than the School 56 library. The autobiography describes the struggles of Jacobs’ life as a mother and fugitive slave in the 1860’s.
The narrative was not only an escape from Nashia’s reality – it also became the key that would open the door to a new career – one built on early childhood literacy and visible impact through United Way of Central Indiana’s ReadUP Program.

Her journey began in 2009, first as an assistant to then ReadUP coordinator, Maria Wright. Whenever Maria needed a substitute, Nashia quickly stepped in and found comfort in the daily responsibilities of the job, like taking attendance and managing volunteers. As she continued to find joy in the classroom setting, she officially signed on as a ReadUP tutor in 2011, where she started noticing the positive effects of the program on the students.

“Reading can transport you to better places,” she expressed. “Students can escape to a different world and through it, they learn the power of empathy.”

When Maria retired, it only made sense for Nashia to assume the ReadUP coordinator role that she’s now held for three years. Through the program, she’s sustained lasting relationships with various students. In fact, during our interview, a young boy quickly snuck out of class to give Nashia a hug before scurrying back in. That student is the brother of former ReadUP student Demetrius Jenkins, now an eighth grader, who still regularly communicates with Nashia.

“This program is engrained in the fabric of our school,” she shared. “It’s something the students anticipate and really look forward to each year.”

The ReadUP program will celebrate its 13th birthday in 2020, with a presence in 33 schools throughout United Way’s six-county service area. In its history, the program has provided support for students at various grade levels, until research identified the importance of strong literacy skills in third grade. Nashia credits the strength and success of the program at School 56 to staff members like Maria, who have dedicated their lives to education by strengthening students through the power of literacy.

“One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers,” said ReadUP Program Manager Abby Toppe. “ReadUP partners with schools and communities to stop this staggering trend and creates strong, invaluable mentor relationships along the way.”

Toppe offered her gratitude to volunteers like Nashia and Maria who drive the legacy program that has seen great success at United Way of Central Indiana, serving almost 8,400 students to date.

“When ReadUP students feel safe and have fun with their volunteers, their ability to learn and find enjoyment in reading increases,” Toppe said. “Nashia has helped foster a safe, fun ReadUP environment at School 56 and we are forever grateful for her service and commitment to the Indianapolis community.”

Nashia wants people who find themselves in situations out of their control to know that there is a third option that they can find comfort in during life’s most challenging trials: face everything and read – you just might discover that a book you thought was over is only just beginning.*