After our first year of Reading Rangers, I reluctantly agreed to go through the training offered by the Augustine Literacy Project to see whether it, or some portion of it, could be used to help make the Rangers more effective. It was Debbie McCarthy, our speaker, who finally convinced me to join the two-week training session that was about to begin in a church near Downtown Durham.
The experience, I have to confess, was bittersweet. The Augustine Literacy Project was founded by Linda McDonough who now runs Just Right Academy on Erwin Road and participated in the training, most of which was conducted by Debbie. The organization is sponsored by and operates out of the Holy Family Episcopal Church in Chapel Hill, although it now is a 501C3 and raises its own support.
I spent 20 years either as a student or teacher in Catholic schools and was around a lot of educators that where devoted to their students, but I can only think of one or two others that matched the passion for helping kids as Debbie and Linda who are both flirting with sainthood here on earth, if they haven’t gotten there already.
In the “class picture” taken at the end of the training I stood out like a sore thumb as the lone male, and a big one, in the class. And like a sore thumb is how I felt during most of the training. I have never spent so much concentrated time with so many highly nurturing women. The Orton-Gillingham method that the project is based on is heavy on phonetics and has proved to be effective with helping dyslexics and others with severe reading difficulties learn to read.
If grades had been given by Debbie, I would have also stood out, but not at the top of the class. I struggled with the training. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, and I’d read every dog story in the Richmond Public Library long before I got involved in football. Phonics seems needlessly tedious to me. To be really good in the use of this technique I would need more than the two weeks training and I’m not sure I’d have the patience.
To introduce her topic, Debbie shared some statistics on the number of children that aren’t reading up to standards in this country and especially among children in poverty and children whose parents are not native English speakers. We’ve heard the numbers before and they are overwhelming.