Twelve Struggling Students Become Reading All-Stars with "System 44" and "READ 180"


Scholastic recognizes 2012 national All-Star award winners for overcoming the odds and learning to read


New York, NY — April 18, 2012 — According to the recent Primary Sources teachers survey, educators report that their students are confronted with an increasing number of obstacles to learning: more students are homeless, have learning disabilities or behavioral issues, or face language barriers. And teachers say more students are struggling with reading – the key skill they need to succeed in school and in life.

But one group of kids has proven that it is never too late to catch up and turn their lives around. Today, Scholastic, (NASDAQ: SCHL) the global children’s publishing, education and media company, is proud to recognize 12 students in grades 3-12 who have overcome enormous obstacles — academic, emotional, social, and physical — to become thriving, successful readers. With the help of their incredible teachers, these students have learned to read, are staying in school and are on paths toward success in college, in careers and in everyday life.

The three winners of the System 44® All-Star Awards and the nine winners of the READ 180® All-Star Awards range in age, home state and background, but they share similar stories with other struggling readers – poor reading skills resulting in low self-esteem, low achievement levels and the possibility of becoming high school dropouts. Some of the award winners faced additional hurdles: learning English as a second language, special education classification or physical and emotional challenges. Now, they have each accomplished something remarkable —raising their reading scores, feeling more confident in class, boosting their grades, and passing their excitement onto others — and they are now on a path to attend college.

"The success stories of these students are inspiring examples of how the right research-based intervention program can bridge learning gaps, turn around the lives of students who have only known failure in the past, and help schools meet the high expectations of the Common Core State Standards," said Margery Mayer, President of Scholastic Education. "Each year we are astonished with the achievements of the nominees, energized by their hard work and excited to see what the future has in store for them."

System 44 is the breakthrough foundational reading and phonics intervention technology program for our most challenged readers in grades 3–12+. READ 180 is a comprehensive system of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development that helps schools raise reading achievement for struggling readers in grades 4–12.

The 2012 System 44 All-Star Award winners are:

Abdullah Azad
Age: 13 – Grade: 6 – South End Middle School, Springfield, MA
Originally from Pakistan, Abdullah arrived in the US fluent in four different languages, none of them English. He struggled with English and adapting to American culture after moving here. A quiet, disengaged and distracted student, he scored at a Lexile level of zero on his first reading test. It was in the READ 180 "Stolen Childhoods" workshop, which chronicles the plight of child laborers, that things turned around and Abdullah began to share his story with other students. With a renewed attitude, his reading scores began to rise quickly - from kindergarten to a second grade level. "Now when I do assignments in System 44, it seems easier and I don’t mind answering a question if I am wrong," Abdullah wrote. "Ever since I’ve been in System 44, English is getting easier and the questions are getting easier."

Jose Negron
Age: 13 – Grade: 7 – Equality Charter School, Bronx, NY
A hearing-impaired student, Jose Negron had always been assigned to special, small classes for hard-of-hearing children and his disability made learning to read excruciatingly difficult. On his first day at Equality Charter School in the Bronx, Jose’s teachers said he looked frightened now that he was moving into bigger classes with a mix of students. “In my old school, my teachers asked me questions that I did not understand, and I always got confused with the work,” Jose said. But at Equality, he found System 44, and things started to turn around through hard work and the help of his great teacher. He’s making fast progress, and that’s putting him at ease. His scores are shooting up, and he says his favorite class is reading.

Jumel Otiankouya
Age: 13 – Grade: 7 – Indian Trail Middle School, Olathe, KS
Living in the Congo amidst political unrest, Jumel experienced life in poverty and had limited options. He was accustomed to a life where punishments were harsh and where he was constantly on the alert. When he moved to the US with his aunt and uncle, he spoke only French. "I couldn’t speak with anyone because I didn’t know how to speak English, so people were trying to speak with me by signing so that I could get what they were saying." Despite having to learn a new language and adjust to a completely different culture, Jumel overcame these obstacles with System 44 and has become a confident and passionate reader, improving his reading ability by two grade levels. His drive and love of learning push him to continue working hard and never give up.

The 2012 READ 180 All-Star Award winners are:

Elementary School

Lizbeth Ramirez
Age: 13 – Grade: 6 – McKinley Elementary, Petaluma, CA
When Lizbeth entered READ 180, she was a shy girl reading two years below grade level and struggling to learn English as a native Spanish-speaker. But now, she is an ambitious reader who feels confident in her reading abilities and pushes herself to read even harder material. In less than a year, she has transformed from a quiet girl to an enthusiastic reader who is willing to take risks in classroom group activities by volunteering to read aloud and answering questions. Now reading close to her grade level, Lizbeth has the confidence and ability to help her younger brother, a struggling reader, with his school work. "My mom and dad are really happy with me and how well I’m doing,” she said. “I can help my little brother with his school work now as well."

Brandalynn Jaramillo
Age: 10 – Grade: 3 – Elwood Elementary, Elwood, IN
Brandalynn always struggled with reading in school. She was held back in first grade, and in third grade she still read at the kindergarten level. A family member’s serious health issues made life outside of school stressful as well, with Brandalynn taking over many responsibilities at home. After being enrolled in READ 180, she immediately started to excel and is now reading on grade level. She has beaten many odds personally and academically. Now that she’s back on track, she’s diving into extracurricular activities at school. "[READ 180] has helped me bring my reading grade up to an A from a D!"

Gustavo Reyes
Age: 11 – Grade: 5 – Elaine Wynn Elementary, Las Vegas, NV
Gustavo was a shy kid when he arrived at Elaine Wynn Elementary in April 2011. A child who grew up in a family that spoke only Spanish, his struggles with language zapped his confidence and made learning extremely difficult. For many other children who face daunting language barriers, this would have been too much to overcome. Many students like this become dropouts. He struggled so much that his parents thought he might have a speech problem. But through hard work in READ 180, Gustavo has undergone a rapid transformation and now reads on grade level. "I’m finally noticing improvement in my grades," he said.

Middle School

Ludreche Bouanga
Age: 13 – Grade: 8 – Fondren Middle School, Houston, TX
A refugee from the Congo, Ludreche left his family behind to come to the U.S. three years ago and only spoke French when he arrived. Like many other English language learners, he struggled with reading, which made school frustrating. Being in READ 180 propelled him forward immediately. His teacher says he is "completely invested" in learning to read, and that is translating into a quick acquisition of English and bursting confidence. "When I grow up, reading will help me get a good job and to be happy and successful," he said.

Jerilyn Couch
Age: 14 – Grade: 7 – Shelbyville Middle School, Shelbyville, IN
Before Jerilyn started in READ 180 in 6th grade, she read at a kindergarten level, which made every aspect of school a chore. But by focusing on her education and maintaining high expectations for herself, she has turned things around. Just a year and a half later, her reading has improved five grade levels and she is on track to get to grade level and beyond. "I hope READ 18 and System 44 have helped others as they have helped me," Jerilyn said.

Kaleb Hansen
Age: 14 – Grade: 8 – South Middle School, Joplin, MO,br> Kaleb, who is a student with autism, was once hesitant to engage in class activities and advocate for himself. But after two years in READ 180, he is eager to learn and develop his reading skills. He has grown as a reader and improved his grades in other classes too. With his newfound self-confidence, Kaleb has become more independent, learned to ask for help when he needs it, and improved his social skills. He’s made more friends, initiates conversations with peers and adults, and is moving from resource classes to more general education classes. "Everything is easier now. I love READ 180 so much I just don’t want to leave. I know [READ 18] will help someone else like it has helped me."

High School

Crystal Cunningham
Age: 17 – Grade: 11 – Winslow High School, Winslow, ME
When Crystal began READ 180 three years ago, she read at only a fourth grade level. Having grown up in the foster care system in her early years, she became reluctant to embrace the school community and did not have the skills to express herself or her emotions. Over the course of those years, Crystal’s reading skills have jumped an incredible five grade levels. And she’s jumped forward in the rest of her life as well. She is an active student, participating in class and assisting new students. She has improved in all her academic classes and volunteers in her spare time. "I think it will help me later in life with what I would like to do for a job after I go to college," Crystal said. “I am really grateful for this program and what it has done for me."

Murray Gardner
Age: 18 – Grade: 12 – Salt River Accelerated Learning Academy, Scottsdale, AZ
Murray changed school twice during his freshman year – moving to Las Vegas and then back again to his Native American Reservation outside of Scottsdale, AZ. At Salt River Accelerated Learning Academy, a Title One school in the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian community, Murray was immediately placed in READ 180 because he had not passed the Arizona state reading test. While many students in his community are tempted to join gangs, Murray refused, which is a testament to his drive to succeed. Outside of class, Murray spends his free time playing the guitar and volunteers 90 minutes every day working with the GED program at his school. “What has really surprised me this year is that I finally passed both my reading and writing AIMS,” said Murray. "I knew that READ 180 had really helped me out, but I was very surprised when I was able to read and understand the questions on AIMS this year."


Joseph Rodriguez
Age: 17 – Grade: 12 – Montclair High School, Montclair, CA
After a severe accident that caused brain damage in August 2010, Joseph Rodriguez returned to school and had to learn to read all over again. His reading level at the time was a kindergarten level, and writing and expressing thoughts were clearly difficult. Many students would have given up on school, but his teachers say he is an inspiring example of a person who has the determination to succeed no matter the hardships he faces. After a year and a half in READ 180, Joseph is getting A’s and his reading skills have gone up an incredible three grade levels. "READ 180 has changed my school experience," he said.

The READ 180 and System 44 All-Stars will each receive a $1,200 check from Scholastic to be used towards furthering their education, and the winning students’ nominating teachers will each receive $1,000 worth of Scholastic READ 180 and System 44 educational materials for their classrooms.

Learn more about READ 180 and System 44.

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Alexandra Wladich
Scholastic Inc.
212 965 7353

Nadia Almahdi
Scholastic Inc.