By Marilyn Pulliam
Mary and her mother were with the principal, who introduced Mary saying, “Mrs. Jones will be your reading teacher.” “I don’t read,” came the reply. “Mrs. Jones will teach you.” “I don’t read,” she repeated.
To break the impasse Mrs. Jones invited Mary to a corner of the room. Mary really meant she not only did not read but couldn’t. Mrs. Jones had a book which contained only stick figures to illustrate the story. After several pages a single word appeared on the page. Soon Mary was leaning on Mrs. Jones shoulder. Was she asleep? Reading and turning several more pages Mrs. Jones stopped and said, “It’s your turn, Mary.” She certainly did not ask her to READ the short sentence, but Mary did — she read the sentence faultlessly.
“Mary, do you know what you just did?” She had read. She can read after all; she had just discovered that. She grabbed Mrs. Jones around the neck in utter amazement. This was March and Mary had not been in school all year, and perhaps never for long enough at a time to receive help. She and her mother, a prostitute, moved often.
Mary, bright and world wise, was placed in the third grade; she was nine. Within a few months she was holding her own in the class. Her mother quit her profession and became an aide in the school. Their lives had been changed forever.
Note: Marilyn Pulliam is a volunteer with Companis, an agency that fills staffing gaps of nonprofit organizations with professional volunteer and community workers.