Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nothing Special

The starting line.
Before heading to his first period class, an 8th grade boy rushed into my room. "Miss O'Leary I finished UNBROKEN last night! I read nine chapters, I couldn't put it down. Like, I really liked it."

"Oh my gosh! I am so proud of you!"

"Yea, it's pretty awesome."

I felt like my heart was going to burst with pride for this young man. I did everything in my power to have a school-approved celebration at 7:25 in the morning. If I could've arranged for confetti cannons in short order, I would have. But someone was missing; there was only one other person on the planet who would understand.

"Did you tell Ms. Cotillo?"

"No, I was going to find her next!" I paraded him out into the hall, in view of his English teacher. I placed my hands above him, imaginary spotlights illuminating his literate head.

Though her beaming smile revealed she knew what he was about to say, Mary let him have the glory. She joined in our glee, cheered as he walked off to class, and then caught me in a hug as I dissolved into tears.

"That's it. We can hang our hat on that child alone. That's all we need. We can be done now!"

I wrote an email to my principal, telling him that Mary and I could now retire.

But today was nothing special.

"Can we just read today?"
No one knows UNBROKEN is the first book this young man has ever read on his own. No one knows that he attends replacement literacy classes multiple times a week and regularly tests in the below average range for reading. No one knows that two years ago, I made a promise to his worried mother: I would find a book that would make her son read. No one knows that as recently as last week he doubted his own abilities and was nervous about finishing on time. No one knows that he wrote "All In!" in his class journal way back in September, when writing his goals for the year.

Today was nothing special.

By the time the morning was over, we were visited by three more children, all singing the same tune: "I Couldn't Put It Down Last Night!" As we walked to lunch, preparing to test these eager readers, Mary looked at me and said, "And today was nothing special. Like, we're still a week away from the due date. They're just loving it!"

Let the adventure begin.
The adolescents who crammed our testing table before eating their lunches today - there was a line - were overwhelmingly struggling readers. The first six kids, packed in like sardines at a table meant for four, were all Special Education students.

As of today, 141 kids have passed the test for UNBROKEN. Seven of them have asked to take another one "because it was fun" or "I want to prove it even more."

And today was nothing special.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Yesterday we cried for all the right reasons.

Just before last period, a lovely 8th grade student - and, as of today, she's an official 3-Peat - came up to Erin in the hallway and handed her a folded note.

"This is for you and Ms. Cotillo but you can't read it until you're together."

Two hours later, the faculty meeting had ended and the two of us remained; together, we unfolded her hand-written letter.

The two of us, joined in weepy Crazy Reading Lady bliss, shook our heads in quiet awe of what we had been given.

We decided her words were enough to warrant their very own blog post.

If only these kids knew how thankful we are for them. They are the reason this program exists. They are the reason we have the very best jobs in the world.

There were a lot of ideas we tossed around for the title of this post: Love, Wow, This is Why We Do It, When You Least Expect It. But we settled on Thankful. That is what this young lady so honestly and eloquently expressed, and that is what we were left feeling after reading her letter.

For all the readers who've come along on the journey.
If you haven't had one of those beautiful teacher moments in a while, please allow us to share ours with you.

We are thankful.

Mary and Erin

December 3, 2014

Dear Ms. O'Leary and Ms. Cotillo,

When I first found out we were reading the book UNBROKEN, I did not know what to expect. I personally love non-fiction [and] war books so I was excited it was that genre. Reading UNBROKEN is like time travel. The author Laura Hillenbrand takes people of all ages back to the 1940s; which they may not have lived in. Louis Zamperini seems like an old friend I have known my whole life after reading UNBROKEN. His personality, background, and character is well-described while leaving some mystery.

I am so thankful for the chance to read this incredible story. UNBROKEN has taken me to places I have never been before and I have found my inner soldier. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for choosing UNBROKEN for All In! 2015! It has changed the way I look at society, life, and the world around us.


8th grade