Former Teen Leader Spotlight: Karina Cavalli


Age: 33
Borough: Queens
Favorite Book: Candide by Voltaire
Place I Most Want to Visit: Italy
Person I'd Most Like to Meet: Kevin James
Favorite NYC Restaurant: Anywhere that serves pizza
Favorite Sports Team: New York Mets
Most New York moment: Taking the wrong train and going Uptown instead of Downtown
Most Important Quality In A Student: Confidence

I always loved to see the children progress. 

personal struggle with Reading

I was born and raised in New York but only spoke Spanish until Kindergarten, when I first went to school. My early report cards said, “She doesn’t recognize her sounds.” In third grade, I took the first standardized reading test and did very poorly. I had to go to a school-provided after-school program. I did not like it at all and so as a kid reading was never fun for me. 

If I had Read Alliance as a young student, instead of having one teacher standing over me telling me what to do, I would have been in a room with others close to my age, where everyone was working on the same thing, and I would have benefited. If I had been tutored by someone close to the age of my brother, who I looked up to, it would have made a difference.

Path From Teen Leader to Teacher

When I was a junior in high school, a Read Alliance representative spoke with the teachers at my high school and one of my teachers came up to me and said, “This is something you might be interested in.” I began as a lead tutor the spring of my junior year, and I remember going online and seeing if they had summer positions because I enjoyed it so much. I worked that summer in the South Bronx.

After I got into college, I saw that Read Alliance needed help in the office, placing phone calls to teen leaders. That’s how I continued to be connected to the program. There were occasions when I went to a school in Harlem to cover for a tutor. Instead of going to the homework room [a typical Read Alliance session includes 45 minutes of literacy tutoring and 45 minutes of homework help], I would volunteer to do two reading sessions. I always loved to see the children progress. 

I really wanted these children to love reading and not to look at it as a punishment. A lot of times, teachers will use it as a punishment and that’s not what I wanted for them.

After college, I became a teacher’s assistant in a charter school, working with the first grade. One day, I overhead administrators talking about Read Alliance and I volunteered to manage the school’s program. And I was working with students from my old high school! I told them, “I was a teen leader myself, and look at me now. I’m a teacher, completing my Master’s.” As a teen leader, I remembered calling over a teacher to ask if they would test a child to see if they could move up [to the next reading level], and now these teen leaders were calling me over to do the same thing. I realized it was coming full-circle!

on Living where you teach

I teach in the community where I grew up, just like most of the Teen Leaders working with Read Alliance. Having that communication with the families and their knowing that I’m from the area is so important because we are connected. I’m able to say, “Listen, you’re going to find me on the avenue shopping, you’re going to find me in the supermarket." We have a lot in common.

first steps of Financial literacy

Read Alliance helps you to become partially independent. You have a job, you get a paycheck, and so you have to have a bank account. From there you learn about savings.

inspiring her next generation

I want my children to love reading. I just took my one-year-old daughter to the library for the first time. She got her library card at the same library I grew up going to. I try to read at least one book a night to her. Her current favorite is the Where is the Very Hungry Caterpillar lift-the-flap book [by Eric Carle].