Sierra Scoggins, a fifth-grade educator at KIPP Academy of Opportunity (KAO) in South Los Angeles, grew up seeing the impact a giving heart can have on others witnessing her mother’s selflessness and altruism as an emergency room physician, the sacrifices her father made through his career in personal protection, and her two brothers compassionate spirit through athletics.
Scoggins’ experience working with the youth at her church and volunteering at daycares and summer camps inspired her to pursue a career working with children. And so, she signed up to join Teach For America. Despite Louisiana not being her first pick, being that this location was very far from her family, she got assigned to work in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. She mentions this was “a true blessing in disguise,” as it was in Baton Rouge that she obtained her master's degree in teaching and was first introduced to a program called Girls on the Run, which ultimately sparked an interest in creating her own program, Girls Who Read, Inc. (GWR).
Girls on the Run was a mentorship program in which a group of girls would stay for 90 minutes after school to work on different character-building activities, followed by a mile run to practice for a 5K race. Scoggins forged close relationships with her students and families through this program, ultimately providing the perfect bridge to building a like-minded mentorship program at KAO.
In 2021, Scoggins made her way back to her home state and began her journey with KAO. Scoggins was initially given full support from School Leader John Coleman and former Assistant School Leader Kasi Watts to continue her work with Girls on the Run. However, given pandemic restrictions, she pivoted the scope of the program to a virtual format and decided to restructure her program to be what it is today.
KAO sixth-grader and GWR member Emily in a GWR Spring Tutoring session with a USC Women’s Soccer team member
In the summer of 2021, Scoggins virtually launched GWR in order to empower and inspire young ladies from fifth-eighth grade through a shared love of literacy and beyond. And because of the virtual pivot, Scoggins was able to both include her Baton Rouge girls and make new connections with her new KAO girls. All told, there were 10 girls who flocked to the GWR program.
“Girls Who Read wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my girls. They are the reason I love what I do. There are days where I am exhausted, I’m a human being, but I persevere and keep pushing because of them,” said Scoggins. “I see their vocabulary growing. I see their character growing and developing. They motivate me. They keep me on my toes and thinking about what’s next.”
After many purposeful conversations with her grandmother, who has worked in education for over twenty years, Scoggins was inspired to host her first volunteer meeting to seek like-minded individuals who enjoy pouring into our youth. As a former college athlete, Scoggins understood that teamwork would play a huge role in the success of GWR. She then recruited a few KAO colleagues, including Sashoy Blake, a special education educator at KAO, to support the program. And from there, meaningful spaces were created for learning and growing for our KIPPsters.
"I love working with children, seeing their capabilities, and showing them they're capable. That's just me through and through with my students with disabilities and every student on this campus," said Blake. "I always want to show what they can do. So because of that, I was on board with volunteering for GWR because this is what I want to do in life in general."
As the program evolved, GWR offered different program themes throughout the year, including Summer Book Club, Fall Fitness, Winter Service, and Spring Tutoring. The programming is structured to embody the organization's core values — empower and inspire, liberation through literacy, a culture for service, and equity and inclusion.
Winter Service GWR members giving away free toys during the holidays in partnership with the Free Will Missionary Baptist Church
Since launching GWR, members have read a wide range of books, such as "A Good Kind of Trouble," "A Smart Girl's Guide: Making a Difference: Using Your Talents and Passions to Change the World," "The Story of Frida Kahlo: A Biography Book for New Readers," "The House on Mango Street," "Chicken Soup for the Girls Soul," and "Patina."
The program has also given members the opportunity to gain inspiration from numerous influential women, including USC Women's Head Soccer Coach Jane Alukonis and the USC Women's Soccer team and staff, Fitness Director Malai Jackson, Rif Care Founder and CEO Valerie Emanuel, Iowa State University graduate Grace Lazard, and Kelsey Lineburg, the Interim Manager for Chick-Fil-A's Leadership Development Program.
"I want to put my girls in spaces where they can connect with influential women," said Scoggins. "It's really about inspiring the girls and bringing the right people in these spaces for the girls — it's about resources, exposure, and most importantly, access."
They have also engaged in numerous community service projects, including putting together sanitary packs for the unhoused, collecting canned goods for the LA Mission, and wrapping toy donations in partnership with the Free Will Missionary Baptist Church located across the street from KAO. And have taken field trips to the Immersive Frida Kahlo experience and a Los Angeles Sparks game, thanks to generous donations from GWR supporters.
GWR members receiving organic feminine care products from Rif Care Founder and CEO Valerie Emanuel
KAO seventh-graders and founding GWR members Zori and Jakeira recalled being motivated to join the program in the summer of 2021 to spend more time with their favorite educator, who also happens to be their volleyball coach.
"I just want to thank Ms. Scoggins because she has so much on her calendar with the GWR program, volleyball, and school work," said Jakeira. "It's a lot to do as a teacher, a mentor, and a coach, but I'm so grateful for her because she is the best person and my favorite teacher."
KAO sixth-grader Emily, who joined the program in the summer of 2022, said she was inspired to join the program because of Scoggins and was determined to push herself outside her comfort zone and join her first club — a decision she looks back on with joy.
"Fall Fitness was my favorite program. I don't usually work out, so I learned new moves and stretches, and it made me happy that I was doing something that I wanted to do," said Emily.
Because of GWR's holistic structure, the girls credit the program for helping them grow academically and personally, exposing them to new experiences, and inspiring them to be strong, independent young women who can do anything they want.
"Girls Who Read definitely made me change as a person reading-wise and personality-wise. I get pep talks from my GWR mentors to stay true to myself, stay out of the drama, and focus on my education," said Zori. "I think I'm more at peace. It helps me find new books. I'm more social, and I can make friends easier. It's just a really fun place to be."
With the support of her mother and her aunt, Scoggins recently hosted the very first "Holiday Family Dinner" for the girls and their families to celebrate their growth over the course of the year — a dinner she had dreamed about since the start of the program.
On average, GWR has around 35-50 girls participating in the program per season. Because of its success at KAO and Baton Rouge, Scoggins plans to expand to the Henderson and Summerlin areas in Nevada, led by GWR mentor Auni Gaston, and into more KIPP SoCal campuses to empower and inspire more of our KIPPsters.
We are grateful for passionate educators and mentors like Scoggins, Blake, and all of the KAO volunteers who continue to help our KIPPsters develop the skills and confidence to pursue any path they choose — college, career, and beyond.