After two weeks with her Team Read student Antonio, Hailey was struggling. Antonio avoided speaking in English. He wouldn’t read. And he never, ever smiled.
“Antonio, we have to read a book,” she’d often say.
The second grader frowned and spoke softly.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish,” she said.
End of conversation.
All around them, other tutoring pairs seemed to click. Other little kids were reading books about marine life, solar power and American presidents. “I felt like I was failing,” Hailey said.
There was one English word Antonio had no problem using. “Boring,” he’d say when she brought him a book on animals.
Hailey tried to introduce all kinds of books. “Boring, boring, boring, boring.”
The only thing Antonio liked to read were the comic book adventures of a ghost named Johnny Boo.
One day, Hailey had an idea. She went to the local library and checked out all the Johnny Boo collections she could find.
“Let’s read Johnny Boo today,” she said at the next Team Read session.
Antonio grabbed one of the comics and started to read aloud. He pointed out goofy characters he liked. Hailey didn’t know about Johnny Boo, so Antonio explained all the jokes.
For the next several weeks, whenever they met, Hailey and Antonio made a routine of telling jokes and making up stories. Antonio started to read more. He returned from the Team Read book boxes with new books he wanted to try.
In time, he confided to Hailey that he was embarrassed by his English. His family had moved to Seattle from Mexico five years earlier, and Spanish was the primary language at home. He also opened up about his playground fights with other kids. The closer they got, the more Antonio relaxed, and the more books he finished.
Antonio’s teacher Mrs. Sanchez noticed the change. “Whenever I checked in with Antonio and his tutor, they were reading.”
Earlier in the year, Antonio was getting in trouble a lot for anger issues, but his behavior took a switch in Team Read. “They were always focused,” Mrs. Sanchez said of the pair.
Antonio’s reading jumped a level, then another, then another.
The most dramatic difference, said Mrs. Sanchez, was when she noticed Antonio smile. “He has a beautiful smile, and I never saw that smile during the school day.”
Hailey is delighted by the work Antonio’s done. “His teacher told me I’m doing a great job.”
Mrs. Sanchez isn’t surprised by the pair’s progress. “When you’re happy, you learn. It’s that simple. Antonio knows his tutor cares about him. He knows he’s special, and he’s learning a lot.”
我的姓名是Jack Khuu, 我是中國移民第一代在美出生的孩子
My name is Jack Khuu and I’m a first-generation Chinese American.
I was in Team Read in second grade, at an important time in my life. At home, my parents and grandparents spoke Cantonese. None of our books were in English and the TV was always on a Chinese-language channel.
When I tried to read in school, English looked weird and the alphabet made no sense. I never knew which sound to make when I read.
I was jealous when I saw the books that other students were reading, like Harry Potter and the Magic Tree House.
In Team Read, my tutor was a guy from Franklin High School who liked to tell jokes like: “Why did the chicken cross the road? And how many cats does it take to screw in a light bulb?” I never really understood. American jokes were confusing, but my tutor kept trying to entertain me. He didn’t treat me like a student; he treated me like a little brother.
He asked me what I wanted to read most. “Magic Tree House!” I told him. “But it’s way too hard.”
“Let’s do this,” he said. “I’ll read to you for a while, and then you can read some words to me.”
My tutor read to me, and then I started to read some sentences to him. After a while, I was reading entire pages by myself. “That’s great,” said my tutor, “Now read a little louder.”
I didn’t feel comfortable reading to someone else. I didn’t want him to hear me mess up words or get the grammar wrong.
“Okay,” said my coach. “We’ll come back and read it again later.”
I loved the book so much, I was happy to read it again, and every time I read it, my voice got louder.
We worked together in Team Read all year, and I kept trying harder and harder books. When the new Harry Potter book came out, I borrowed a copy from the library. I read it, then I read all the rest of the books in that series. For the first time, reading was fun.
A few years later, when I got to eighth grade, a representative from Team Read came to my school who said that eighth-graders could apply to be tutors in Team Read.
My student was a boy from Ethiopia named Yakub. I jumped at the chance to become a reading tutor for a little kid.
Yakub was so shy, he couldn’t even look me in the face and he was way behind the other readers in his class. I noticed that he was too bashful to make friends with his classmates.
At our first session together, I pulled out a book my old tutor read with me. When Yakub refused to look at the book, I told him not to worry about the words, but to look at the pictures instead.
We looked at the pictures and we looked for clues about the story. We asked each other silly questions. I tried to do everything my tutor did with me, to make Yakub comfortable.
“I want to keep reading,” he finally said.
If Team Read didn’t exist I never would have learned to love reading and I never would have introduced my student to books that got him excited to read as well.
This year, I’m back as a Team Read tutor for my fifth year. I’m also starting my senior year at Franklin with a 4.0 GPA.
I plan to attend the University of Washington next fall to get my degree in technical engineering. And I’m proud to report that I still read a lot and I now do my homework all the time.
Karrington Ogans remembers third grade clearly. She wanted to read mystery books, especially the Cam Jansen series. She saw other students reading these books, but she struggled as a reader herself.
“It was very discouraging,” she says. “I knew I was smart, but I felt like I was bad at reading.”
Karrington froze when she got to a hard word in a book. She often quit in the middle of a story. When her parents encouraged her to persevere, she threw tantrums. It was painful to watch other kids enjoying the books she wanted to read.
But when she became a student in Team Read, things started to change. Karrington remembers her tutor from Garfield High School as helpful and friendly.
“I looked forward to going. My tutor was very supportive. She helped me slow down and say words. She helped build my reading skills.”
Most importantly, her tutor reminded her that reading is fun, says Karrington. Karrington’s tutor noticed her interest in mystery books. Together, they worked hard to improve Karrington’s reading level. They read a lot of books. They practiced vocabulary skills. By the time Karrington was done with Team Read, she was devouring any mystery she could find, including the Cam Jansen books.
“Karrington really looked up to the big kids [in Team Read],” recalls her mother, Nannette Ogans. “She wanted to go to Garfield and she was excited to work with Garfield students.”
These days, Karrington is swamped with college application deadlines, class work and homework. The Garfield High School senior also participates in four college-readiness programs and runs track for her school. Busy as she is, Karrington still makes time for Team Read.
This past fall, Karrington worked with student reader Lauryn at an elementary school on Capitol Hill. The pair completed 20 books during the first semester of Team Read, including many mystery books they both enjoyed.
She and Lauryn are a “perfect match,” says Karrington. “Lauryn is like me at her age. I know exactly how she feels.”
As they read together at a recent session, Lauryn leaned over and hugged her tutor. “Karrington helps me with words I really need help with. Sometimes I want to give up, but I go back and try again … Karrington is really, really awesome.”
For her part, Karrington is proud to share the Team Read experience she had as a student. “I didn’t want to stop giving back to the program. I wanted to give back to a little kid.”