Dr. Kelly Byrd stays busy as a speech-language pathologist but still finds time for other pursuits. She has worked in St. Louis Public Schools for almost ten years now, while also completing her doctorate degree, writing a children’s book, and founding an organization to promote literacy in black families.
Partnering with Supplemental Health Care allows Kelly flexibility to pursue her passions together with her SLP career. She has been able to take time off to write her dissertation as well as work other speech-language pathology assignments, like in rehab facilities, during summer breaks.
The relationship she has with her recruiter makes her feel cared about as a person, not just as an employee. “I love Dan,” she says. “He's just a really awesome guy and he's always been super supportive, even about life that happens outside of school.”
Kelly studied child language disorders while obtaining her Master of Sciences in Speech Pathology. She always knew she wanted to work with kids and recognizes the importance for children to be able to communicate and have a voice.
While working as a speech-language pathologist, Kelly observed that her students appeared disconnected from the practice of reading and writing due to the reading content and literacy tasks. While pursuing her doctorate, Kelly considered those classroom observations; her dissertation examined traditions of African American family literacy practices.
Through her research and experiences, Kelly saw how a child’s ability to read is closely tied to how they negotiate their identity in school. Between assessments and testing, literacy is primarily driven by how well you read (e.g. a reader’s speed and reading level). She worries that can take the fun out of just absorbing a book.
“I also know, just from a research standpoint, that the more kids identify with what they read, the better at reading they will be.”
She recalls that as a child, she always wanted to see characters in books that looked like her, imagining people in her own life in the stories she read. “I think it is very important for children to be able to see themselves in books as the scientist, the smart kid, the ballerina, or the President, so they get a better understanding of who they are in the world. And representation in books helps to provide that.”
Known affectionately by many of her kids as “Miss Dr. Byrd,” Kelly hopes to show greater representation for the children in her community by modeling the way. When she published her own children’s book, Like Sunshine on an Otherwise Miserable Day, she was thrilled that her kids could see themselves in it. Not only through mirrors of black children and their experiences in the story, but recognizing a familiar face as the author.
It was also during this time that Kelly launched her organization, Love for Literacy. “Since I’ve always felt like that family piece is so important, I really was just thinking of a way to bridge what I did in my research with what my experience was in school,” she said.
Through events, book drives, and giveaways, Love of Literacy has been working to provide black children with more literature that reflects them and their experiences. It also explores how black families engage with literacy as well as showing ways for children to have more positive experiences with it.
Along with creating a love of literacy within families, Kelly encourages parents to support their kids in writing their own stories. Whether it’s a story about a vacation or a really fun day they had, Kelly explains, parents can help show their children that they can create their own stories too.
This quote from novelist Toni Morrison on the Love for Literacy website sums it up perfectly: “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Check out the Love for Literacy website for more information on the organization and promoting black family literacy. Additionally, Kelly has provided some resources to get more ideas for multicultural book titles to expand your own library.