Literacy Program In Wilson, North Carolina Benefits Struggling Readers

Author E.D. Arrington  affirms as she embarked on writing, part of  the overarching message she wanted to convey   was “Nobody makes it in this world alone.”

The idea of self-reliance also  figures prominently in her book Stay The Course and she credits her grandmother for encouraging her  to pursue an education.

"The belief that education is freedom – real freedom, began in childhood.  I was adopted and raised by my grandparents.  My grandfather was a sharecropper who could barely read."

 " Even when he knew what the earnings report was fraudulent, he felt helpless to even speak up.   He regretted to his dying day for not “getting more learning.”  But until his health failed, my grandfather tirelessly worked endless hours on the farm,  upholding the traditional role of provider for his family.  At the end of his life, he had nothing to show for his hard work.  The landowner left his family a small fortune," she said.  

We have all read and heard news reports about the abysmal performance of schools as test scores indicate. Recently, the New York Times reported more than 35 percent of students need  remediation when they reach college, according to the federal government.

In light of the weak performance in schools today, when asked what  advice she could offer classroom teachers or parents  in terms  of making a difference,  Arrington said part of the solution  is in  addressing the  student’s  varied learning styles.

"For those students who get it, continue doing what works for them.  But for the many students who are performing poorly, it’ can’t be business as usual.    You’ve got to understand how the student learns – visually as well as auditory, so practice, all of the above – and then meet the student where he/she is by utilizing enrichment programs designed for the student, not the test.  It’s the 21st century — Change is a good thing," she said.

Arrington is also the founder of a reading program based in North Carolina, "It’s Time To Read With Me!" and  in the interview that follows, Arrington shares her work as an author, influences, and how she is promoting literacy locally in Wilson, North Carolina :

Jackie O’Neal:

Your reading program “It’s Time To Read With Me!” has been instrumental in promoting literacy. Can you share some creative ways you encourage struggling readers to develop a love of books and reading?

E.D. Arrington:

After the release of Stay The Course, I began reading aloud to youth.  But I only drew very small groups.  However, what I learned by reading to these small groups, that often included younger and older adults, was that when I read in character, making every character, including the narration, come to life, the children held onto every word. 

 During the question and answer sessions, I gave out awards – autographed books, gifts cards – to the “first” youth who could answer the posed question.  I learned that these youth – most of whom considered reading a chore forced upon them by adults, were engaging, thoughtful, excited, eager to share their views on how or what they would or would not have done as a certain and why; and, most important, these youth gradually loosed their inhibitions and competed to be the “first” to answer the question because they wanted the “prize.” 
 Reading aloud, in character, taught me how our youth could be taught the joy of reading; and the more knowledge they gained, the stronger was their self esteem; the stronger their self esteem, the more they wanted to read. 
 And, it goes without saying, the stronger their reading, listening, and comprehension skills, the youth would return to school more confident of their abilities, and result in better performing students in school – public, charter, private – because in the end it has to come from the child.  
Out of that experience, in 2008, four years after releasing Stay The Course, I launched “It’s Time To Read With Me!” over the radio airwaves because I could reach more youth. 
 I went on to host the first African American Read-In where a group of youth were given the opportunity to pose a question to Dr. Barry C. Black, the first American of African descent to serve as Chaplain of the United State Senate, who wrote the story of his life, From The Hood To The Hill In 2011, “It’s Time To Read With Me!” hosted the second African American Read-In at the main Wilson Library that featured Calvin Woodard, the first American of African descent to serve as sheriff in Wilson County, North Carolina. Following a slide presentation of outstanding and accomplished Americans, Sheriff Woodard read aloud to an enthusiastic audience.

Jackie O’Neal:

In every author’s experience, there is often a pivotal event that results in the creative process which in your case, took the form of writing.  Can you describe the pivotal event that led you to tell your story?

E.D. Arrington:

I was adopted and raised by my grandparents.  Both were dead when I turned fifteen years old.  I was left with a lot of questions about my biological parents – questions to this day that have not been fully answered. 

 In 1992, after having never been sick but for a  two week bout of the flu, and never under a doctor’s care but during the pregnancy and delivery of my daughter, I had to be hospitalized for nearly two months. 
 After being treated by an onslaught of specialists and undergoing a series of tests at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, the doctors were baffled, and I was released with the parting words, “Sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do.” 
 An important strength that I learned from my grandmother was that “Quitting is not an option.”  So, in spite of the doctor’s doom and gloom, I went home determined to get well. 
 But I’m also a pragmatist.  Just in case the doctors could have gotten it right, I wanted to make sure my daughter was left with as many unanswered questions about her parents, her father and me, as I was.  That’s when I forced myself to sit at the computer as long as physically possible and began to write everything I was willing to put on paper about my life, giving my daughter a place to possibly find answers to her questions.  It took me eight months to finish my story that I titled, The Road We Traveled. (1994).  What I learned during those eight months was that writing took to me a world where I could run, swim, jump – I wasn’t sick and I wanted to go back to that world, so I began to create new worlds.

Jackie O’Neal:

How do you envision your book will impact your readers?

E.D. Arrington:

I hope the book will cause my readers to look within themselves.  Question their belief system.  Question their behavior.  And change for the better.   My mantra is:  “If I can make a difference in but one life, then I have given life my best shot.”   I hope after reading the book, my readers will pick up that mantra and give life their best shot.

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