That rather profane but welcome cheerful complaint was uttered recently by Donovan, a 17-year old who tested back in the fall as a kindergarten-first grade reader. Our organization, RICH, targeted Donovan and several other low readers for our Word Stars program, which attempts to raise each student's reading level by two full grades each year. Our ultimate goal for Donovan is to have him be a functional reader by graduation, so he can fill out a job application form and read what is on the supermarket aisle.
Let me tell you about our other low readers. One lives with his aunt, who can't wait for the boy's 18-year old birthday so she can kick him out. He is always starving for money, food, and clean clothes. I met him my first day at Anacostia High School, and he was sitting by himself, not participating in class. I was allowed to pull him out and give him a quick math diagnostic and a pep talk.
Another boy we targeted has a sleeping disorder and is also dirt poor. Dyslexia runs in his family. He can be cheerful and playful but knows down deep he struggles at something that most of the students can do.
Another boy has had perfect attendance because his father smokes crack at home, and there is never money for food. You can get breakfast and lunch at school, including the lunches from Subway we get him once/week as a reward for his attendance. He has made a lot of progress this year, almost as much as Donovan.
Those are the Word Stars who have been coming to school and who have been succeeding. There are plenty more whose attendance was never good or dropped off suddenly, and despite our efforts (See my other post, "He Was On Our List . . . ."), we cannot bring most of them back to school. Some of them have parents who are in jail or otherwise absent, addicted, or ignorant. Some live in group homes which do not make the students go to school. There is one boy whose family is in the drug business. Whenever I drop in, there is a nice, large crowd gathered outside. Inside there is no furniture or light. The boy is illiterate, and I imagine he will always be in the business unless he learns how to read. That won't happen, it looks like, until he spends a few years in jail, like this man.
There is the girl who had a baby. She has been trying to read for many years but is very impatient with herself. Now that she has a baby, she wants to stay home more and more, and her mother is not able to convince her to go to school. There is another boy who has a temper and who is often getting suspended. Why, you might ask, does a boy with attendance issues get suspended? Good question. I don't know.
These are the students who just disappear from school, from society perhaps, only to end up on public assistance for the rest of their lives, whether they are in jail or out of jail.
Then there is Donovan. "My mother came in to my room because I was so quiet. She said, 'What are you doing?'
"I'm reading.'", he said, with a big smile.