Reflection written by Skylar Joseph, 2022-2024 English Literacy Tutor and AmeriCorps Leader
As I reflect on my journey with Literacy First, a profound story of service comes to mind—one that encapsulates the essence of perseverance, dedication, and the transformative power of literacy. It’s the story of Izaiah, a bright-eyed first-grade student with dreams as vast as the universe, and my unwavering support throughout his educational journey.
My decision to join Literacy First was fueled by a passion for education and a desire to gain hands-on experience. Following my dreams of becoming a special needs teacher, Literacy First seemed like the perfect platform to immerse myself in the world of education while pursuing my college classes at night.
Enter Izaiah—a remarkable little soul who qualified for the program but faced challenges that were not immediately apparent. His struggle was not against a lack of enthusiasm or curiosity, but a formidable speech impediment that cast a shadow over his ability to connect with the Literacy First curriculum.
Determined to unlock Izaiah’s potential, I embarked on a collaborative journey with the Literacy First team, his classroom teacher, and his parents. Regular updates were shared, highlighting the challenges he faced and the incremental progress he made. It became evident that the conventional Literacy First intervention wasn’t resonating with Izaiah due to the unique nature of his impediment.
Despite our collective efforts, he was not responding to the program as we had hoped. This left us at a crossroads, and it seemed that Izaiah might have to exit the Literacy First program so we could work with another child.
But I couldn’t accept defeat. I couldn’t fathom the idea of giving up on a child who had so much potential waiting to be unlocked. The literacy journey is not a straight path; it’s a winding road with unforeseen twists and turns. And so, we pressed on.
Then, one magical day, it happened. The intervention clicked. Izaiah, like a flower finally blooming, began to show remarkable progress. From reading 10 words per minute, his rate soared to an impressive 35. While he didn’t quite reach the graduation criteria of 45 words per minute, the change in him was palpable.
Izaiah’s life was forever changed by the power of literacy. He had learned to navigate the intricacies of language, opening up new worlds and opportunities. And I, as his guide on this journey, had learned the true meaning of determination, hard work, belief in oneself, and what it feels like to never give up on someone.
As the next school year unfolded, I found myself placed at the same school—a serendipitous twist of fate. As I conducted the benchmark testing at the beginning of the year, my eyes welled up with tears of joy. Izaiah’s reading had improved even more over the summer.
Now, as he embarks on another year in the program, I am filled with hope. We dream of reaching that graduation criteria together, but even if we fall short, the lessons of determination, hard work, and unwavering belief will stay with us forever.
Izaiah’s story is not just about literacy; it’s about the resilience of the human spirit, the impact of dedicated educators, and the profound transformation that occurs when a child discovers the magic within the pages of a book.
Izaiah’s story is also an example of why some students may need extra time and attention from their Literacy First tutors. Not every child who enters our program will reach grade-level benchmarks and graduate within a single school year. And that’s okay—incremental progress is also something big to celebrate. The ability to read 35 words per minute rather than 10 is a huge improvement for Izaiah and will undoubtedly help him be more successful in other academic areas beyond reading.
The majority of students who enter and remain in the Literacy First program throughout the year show measurable growth toward their reading goals. For students like Izaiah, our program means more than higher reading scores. It means having access to new opportunities unlocked by the ability to read. It means having the chance to learn to love reading, rather than fear it. It means having an advocate who is there for them despite challenges, cheering them on every step of the way. It means gaining the confidence to do hard things and seeing the value in determination. It means growing into a lifelong learner.