President George J. Hagerty joins students and staffers for a “toast for change” celebrating strides in literacy.
For collegians who struggle with Dick and Jane readers, bolstering their reading skills echoes another famous literary couple, Jack and Jill — as in uphill battle.
That struggle led a group of students enrolled in reading strategies classes at Beacon College in December to raise cups of chilly lemonade during the Reading/Writing celebration and offer a “toast for change” to mark their strides up that tortuous hill.
Suggested by Dr. Mary-Anne Primack, the “toast for change” theme was borrowed from the 2007 film “Freedom Writers,” which her writing strategies class watched this semester. The film follows a dedicated teacher who inspires students thought incapable of learning to keep journals and read content relatable to their lives.
Beacon’s every-semester celebration emerged from a discussion Dr. Bonni Boschee had with Beacon Provost Dr. Shelly Chandler. Boschee, an assistant professor of humanities and reading specialist, suggested ways to celebrate readers who’ve make significant strides, as well as those who developmentally are moving toward their goals. This fall, 43 freshmen tackled reading strategies classes, Boschee said.
Not that Beacon College, America’s first accredited baccalaureate school dedicated to educating students with learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences, is stranded alone on the functional illiteracy island.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study revealed a troubling truth: 19 percent of high schoolers graduate functionally illiterate. That means while they may be able to slog through this sentence, they aren’t equipped to read well enough to navigate modern daily living and complex job duties.
Unless secondary schools are testing students using scientific, research-based diagnostics to gauge where students are reading-wise, students can slip through the cracks, Boschee said.
“When we accept them [at Beacon], we accept them based on the information in their files,” she said. “The diagnostics come later once they’re enrolled in reading strategies [classes].”
In any case, by the time these students reach Beacon College, why Johnny (and Jane) can’t read isn’t the primary issues. Fixing the problem — not fuming over affixing blame — is the imperative.
“Because of the reading program we have and the reading system that we use, we are capable in developmental classes to move their brains significantly in reading,” Boschee said. “Yes, it is a challenge, however [students] have great breakthroughs when they understand they can scaffold … and we move them to a level to which they can be successful. We take the students wherever they are, and we then run with pants on fire to move them [forward] as quickly as we can.”
The fruits of the pants-on-fire efforts by Boschee and Dr. Rosemarie DeJarnett were on display during the 45-minute celebration. Staffers and students offered affirmative toasts.
“My toast for you is my hope that you continue to grow your growth mindset,” Primack offered. “Build your vocabulary of positive affirmations. Find reading and writing material that you enjoy and surround yourself with folks that value curiosity and kindness.”
Michael Hansen summed up the student journey, waxing philosophical: “Live your truth. When you live your truth, nobody can use your truth against you.”
In a fitting epilogue, students received happy face pins, a reminder of how changing one’s disposition and belief in one’s ability to positively power forward can produce spectacular change.
“We work very hard to look out the front window and ignore the rearview mirror because that does not serve us well,” said Boschee. “We say the rear-view mirror was, and what is, is what’s ahead of us.”