What started as one woman’s passion project has flourished into a literacy empire that serves thousands of children in schools across the Wichita area — helped along the way by the people and services of Wichita State University.
Prisca Barnes founded Storytime Village in 2009 with a mission “to inspire a lifelong love of reading for underserved Kansas children from birth to age 8.”
“It’s where my heart and passion lie,” said Barnes, who holds a master’s degree in communication from Wichita State and is working toward a doctorate in educational leadership.
It’s a mission that she takes seriously: “We’re trying to educate the future of our community.”
As Storytime Village has grown, Barnes has attributed the program’s success to key partnerships within Wichita State. To name a few …
- In the early days of Storytime Village, Barnes worked with the Wichita State Community Psychology program to evaluate the literacy organization’s program impact.
- Barnes and her team later met frequently with leaders in what was then called the College of Education (now the College of Applied Studies) “to talk about ways we can work together and support students — students at Wichita State and students that we service.”
- Students in any major have the opportunity for applied learning through a Storytime Village fellowship.
- Students in the Master of Fine Arts creative writing program “have been an absolute jewel,” Barnes said. Part of what Storytime Village does is organize a program for schoolchildren to write, illustrate and publish their own books; and Wichita State’s MFA students have been integral in building the curriculum and guiding the children through the process.
- Storytime Village has partnered with WSU Athletics for Hoops for Literacy, which includes a game between Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department, former Shocker basketball and Harlem Globetrotter players. The children in attendance leave with a book.
- GoCreate, a Koch collaborative in the John Bardo Center, has created Little Free Libraries for Storytime Village to place in underserved areas throughout Wichita. Workers at GoCreate are also working on new sets for the Storytime Village television show on PBS Kansas.
- Art students from the have painted the Little Free Libraries that were installed in underserved neighborhoods, and recently collaborated with GoCreate to create a new group of libraries for the community.
- During a Storytime Village Cookies with Santa event, students from the College of Engineering worked with students from Mueller Aerospace Engineering Discovery Magnet Elementary School to build light displays together.
- Barnes organized a two-day professional development conference throughout Wichita State, including events at the Rhatigan Student Center, the Ulrich Museum of Art, and tours of buildings on campus.
- Barnes has also worked with the Office of Strategic Engagement and Planning as part of the university’s commitment to Shocker Neighborhoods on projects like the farmer’s markets and Wu Crew Reads.
Barnes said after growing up in Wichita and attending Wichita State as a student, collaborating with the university seemed like a natural step to grow her organization.
“The partnerships were really organic,” she said. “They came about when necessary. Once I started to have conversations with one department, it would lead to more conversations with other departments. It was so great, we wanted to continue that.”
Dr. Marché Fleming-Randle, vice president and chief diversity officer at Wichita State, said her office has partnered with Storytime Village for more than three years.
“It’s unity for the community, and it’s important that we support community organizations like this to promote youth literacy initiatives,” Fleming-Randle said.
Recently, Wichita State’s Chief Diversity Office underwrote a Storytime Village event that featured Holly Robinson Peete — actress, author, television host and philanthropist. Storytime Village brought Robinson Peete to Wichita to kick off its Kansas Literacy Festival in August, and more than 150 community members were invited to participate in this event with free admission, books, food and music.
Barnes said she’s expecting to broaden her organization’s relationship with WSU as Storytime Village moves from its current location in the Urban Prep Academy on East 24th Street to a new and bigger literacy center at 16th Street and Holyoke.
“We’ve been building and nurturing these relationships on our journey to this literacy center,” Barnes said. “It’s a really exciting time right know, knowing that we have the support for these common and uncommon relationships with the university to help us as we move forward with this endeavor.”
Dr. Kaye Monk-Morgan, WSU vice president for strategic engagement and planning, said the relationship between WSU and Storytime Village is driven not only by the organizations’ proximity to each other, but also the shared mission to drive educational outcomes for the state of Kansas.
“The desire to positively impact literacy rates allows us to connect on a number of programs and initiatives,” Monk-Morgan said. “Storytime Village is a tried-and-true partner who shares our vision for prosperous communities in Kansas.”
It’s a symbiotic relationship at its core, Barnes said.
“A true partnership — this is what we have with Wichita State,” she said. “It spans beyond just one department. It doesn’t just help us as an organization. It helps the children we serve, and it helps the university students.”