Boys, Reluctant readers, Successes

Teen says reading helped save him

Haille Bailey-Harris is an amazing teenager.
His mom helped him get on the right path,
in part by nurturing his love of reading.

An incredible success story

In the Globe and Mail‘s coverage of “boys and education” this week, a very moving column by a boy named Haille Bailey-Harris caught my attention.

He’s a 16-year-old high school student, and he’s determined not to become one of the statistics the Globe has been writing about – boys who don’t do well in school and don’t go on to university.

He’s an amazing kid. Just Googling him for this article uncovers a whole series of articles he’s had published in major newspapers. Clearly, he has brains, initiative and goals (including arguing a case before the Supreme Court and publishing a book). I have no doubt he will achieve his goals.

However, it wasn’t always like that. The deck was stacked against him from day one. He hasn’t seen his father in 10 years – he’s being raised by his mother alone; he’s an avid video gamer; and he’s dark-skinned. He was bullied in school, full of anger and got into lots of trouble.

As he says in his column, “according to the research, I should be failing in school, a non-reader and basically a loser… hell, I should just throw in the towel!”

Instead, his mother intervened. She developed a plan with his school’s principal, and it worked.

I’ll direct you to his beautifully written Globe column for the whole story, but basically, here’s the plan that worked for him:

1) Find other role models. Teachers, relatives – both male and female.

2) Create a community family. For instance, Big Brothers and Big Sisters provided him with a mentor.

3) Nurture a love of reading. “Instead of banning me from video games, my mom got me games that also required me to read (like Pokemon) and encouraged me to get books (even comics) that interested me. Gradually, I wanted to read books and, eventually, I wanted to read everything, all the time.”

4) Do community service. He and his mom volunteer at the public library and a homeless shelter.

His “battle plan,” as he calls it, helped him realize that he had potential, “as do all children, no matter what the circumstances.” He tried harder in school, found better friends and, “suddenly, before I realized it, my life was right-side up.”

Now that’s a great success story.

The column Haille wrote touches on a couple of themes that I’ve been espousing for a long time. First, that parents can offset poor schooling, bad teachers, lack of resources and just about any obstacle that stands between a kid and the love of reading. Parents can accomplish just about anything. And second, that no matter what a boy wants to read – embrace it! Haille was reading Pokemon video games, for crying out loud. He says he’s now “a happy, well-adjusted 16-year-old who really loves to read.” Lots of people say that boys need to choose their literature carefully and shouldn’t read “just anything.” Haille and I disagree.

I couldn’t find a copyright-free picture of Haille Bailey-Harris and I wanted to show you what he looks like, because this is his story. Haille, if you object to me using this photo (which I found on Globe.com) then let me know and I’ll take it down. But I hope you don’t – because people need to know you.

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