Sakura and Kaimana

The word is climbs.  Kaimana stares at it.  He frowns.  He won’t speak.  He fidgets in his chair.  It makes no sense:  Why is there a “b” at the end of this word?

Kaimana’s tutor, a Garfield High School student named Sakura, now in her second year with Team Read, encourages him to sound out the word.

“I know you can do it,” says Sakura.

Kaimana contorts in his chair.  It looks like he wants to slither under the table.  When Sakura asks him to sit upright, he slumps so low, his nose disappears beneath the tabletop.

Frustration with reading is nothing new for Kaimana.  At home, the primary language is Chuuk, a language of the Austronesian people.  The language has no written alphabet.  As recent immigrants, Kaimana’s family struggles to help him with English.

Silent b’s are a mystery.  When reading, he often confuses the letters “b” and “d.”  When he says a word wrong, he pushes the book away and starts to squirm.

Kaimana’s teacher referred him to Team Read for help.  He’s currently reading at a kindergarten level, two years below his peers.  He wriggles around a lot in the classroom.  He needs more time practicing with books, his teacher says.

If Kaimana still reads this far below grade level by the end of the year, research has shown that he’s at serious risk of never catching up again.

Sakura taps a pencil on the table.  She bites her lip.  She doesn’t want to give Kaimana the word; she wants him to figure it out on his own.

“The b is silent,” she explains.  “It doesn’t make a sound.”

Kaimana looks again.  He won’t speak.

“I know you can get this,” says Sakura.  Her tone is bright and enthusiastic.  Kaimana inches closer, still sagging.

“Look at these words.”  Sakura writes a list in the margin of their Power Reader Journal, the workbook used by Team Read tutors and their students.  Limb, crumb, thumb. 

“Recognize any of these?” Sakura asks.

Kaimana points at thumb.  He says it clearly.

“Great!” says Sakura.  “See?  The b is silent.  It’s the same in this word.”  She points back at the word climbs in their book.

Kaimana frowns again.  “Climms.”

“Hmm,” says Sakura.  “Does ‘climms’ make sense here?”

Kaimana goes back and rereads the sentence, then shakes his head.

“Remember what we talked about?  About long I’s and short I’s?”

He nods.

“So what are the two sounds I makes?”

Kaimana’s face suddenly lights up.  “Climbs!”

Sakura smiles too.  “Right.  Let’s read this again, starting at the top of the page.”

Kaimana sits upright.  He puts his fingers on the edge of the book.  Pretty soon, he’s back to reading.