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How Emma Learned to Read

This is the story about how Emma learned to read:

Hot tears welled up in little Emma’s clear blue eyes as she stood with her reader. The other children whispered and giggled, then grew silent. The teacher was yelling something incomprehensible…

In the hollow where Emma lived, the previous day had been unusually quiet. Around three o’clock the sound of children running, skipping, and laughing filled the street.

“Where were you?” they asked in Italian.  “It’s the first day of school.”

“I’m not old enough,” Emma declared.

“Yes, you are!” they replied.”This is America. You don’t have to wait until you are eight.”

Immediately Emma ran to tell her mother that she was old enough, at seven, to go to school. The next day, her father brought her to the local Irish Catholic school, and the principal took Emma to the nun who was teaching first grade.

Sister gave Emma a box of crayons and a piece of paper as she led her to a seat in the back of the room.

What fun! Emma had never used crayons, so she became immersed in drawing and coloring to her heart’s content. Sister kept calling children to the front of the room as Emma, oblivious to the goings-on in the rest of the classroom, drew and colored.

Smack! The ruler slammed across Emma’s desk. Sister was yelling and screaming something unintelligible. Grabbing her arm, the teacher pulled Emma to the front of the classroom and placed her in one of the small chairs. She evidently had been calling Emma’s name, but the child was so captivated by crayons that she had paid no attention. Sister gave each child a reader and proceeded to call on individual children to read. When Emma’s turn came, she simply repeated what the previous child had said.

Sister’s face turned beet red! She shouted to Emma to sit down, and somehow Emma figured that out. Each first grader was given a reader to take home for the evening.

Little Emma told her mother all that had happened on her first day of school. They decided to enlist the help of their boarder, who often read English language newspapers. In those days many immigrant families took boarders into their homes, giving them meals and a room, as a way to help pay rent. The boarder helped Emma, a quick study, to memorize several pages from her reader.

The next day, little Emma was so excited for her chance to read aloud. When the time came, she read, “Seea Spota runa. Runa Spota runa. Runa, runa, runa.” And so the whispers and giggles began….

But at that moment the teacher finally realized Emma’s situation. She was now yelling, not at this child, but at the other children to stop laughing at Emma. She then became a wonderful teacher for Emma. During lunch recess every day she helped Emma learn to speak and read without an accent.

Emma, the oldest child, was determined that her experience would not be repeated by her siblings, so she helped each one of them with their schoolwork through the years. She was also determined to become a good student of English, and she was forever proud of her eighth grade prize as the Best Student of English in the school.

It is not surprising that two of Emma’s children became reading specialists. We love helping struggling readers to enter the wonderful and important world of reading.  Thanks, Mom!

And thanks also to our immigrant grandparents, who had the courage to travel far and endure great prejudice, never to see their families or homeland again.

We remember that we are the heirs of immigrants– now teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, entrepreneurs– all patriotic Americans, we salute them!

And thanks, America! When you extend your hand to illiterate immigrants, it can make you great in many, many ways!


Be sure to check out Reading Spotlight’s Free Tips concerning reading success in Kindergarten and in Grade 1.


© Reading Spotlight Reposted 2018


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