By Susan Black
What does the future hold for a 10th-grader who reads at a first-grade level?
For Willie Brown, a 15-year-old nonreader who was classified as learning disabled by his Chicago school, the future was bleak. Reading and spelling proved impossibly difficult. After spending hours trying to memorize words on weekly spelling lists, he’d get every word on the test wrong. Disheartened, he blamed himself, wondering, “What’s wrong with my brain?”
It turns out that Willie’s brain needed more than skill-and-drill worksheets that, he says, “didn’t click with me.” He also needed a fresh start after deciding to be “bad instead of dumb” and ended up suspended from school and involved with gangs.
With his parents’ support, Willie enrolled in a Florida private school that specializes in helping so-called “puzzle students,” who are bright but unable to read. The school provides struggling students with individual attention, targeted lessons that focus on sequential skills, and opportunities to succeed.
Within a few months, Willie says, his reading level “increased about three years and kept going up.” He credits a caring, patient teacher and a computerized reading intervention program for his breakthrough. “They gave me the push I needed to get up the mountain,” he says.
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