"All those years, I took all those tests and all of those reading programs, and they never worked for me. But this time, it was almost like magic. One day I just sat down and read the pet classifieds section of the Orlando Sentinel to my grandfather. I read it like it was nothing."
Twenty-year-old Willie Brown still remembers his 10th grade Fast ForWord® reading breakthrough like it was yesterday. It was, as he puts it, "a life-changing experience."
Willie entered 10th-grade with a first-grade reading level.
All through elementary school, middle school, and the first half of high school, Willie struggled to read. "I just didn't get it," he says. "They would tell me over and over how to put the words together, and I couldn't do it. It just wasn't clicking with me."
Early on, Willie was put in Special Education classes, where teachers tried, but failed to help him make sense of words on a page.
"I don't think they had the right tools to help me," he speculates. "I got things like work packets and reading programs, but the teachers couldn't spend that much time with me because they had to tend to other students in the class.”
Shortly into his life-changing 10th-grade year, Willie was accepted into PACE Brantley Hall, a private school that focused on students with learning and attention difficulties, and began using Fast ForWord Language software for 60-minutes every weekday.
"The program was okay. But I didn't understand how it could work, because for the first two weeks I was making these sounds, aaahhh and baaahhh, and figuring out what the kid in the picture was doing.”
Week three was the moment Willie Brown became a reader.
He sat down one day with his grandfather, who often asked Willie to read the Orlando Sentinel out loud to him. Usually, Willie would struggle with the words and give up fast. But that day, Willie started reading his favorite section, the pet classifieds, and didn’t stop.
"I remember it like it just happened," he says. "I read, 'American Pit Bull Terrier puppies, AKC registered, 6 females, 3 males.' I read it like it was nothing. And before, I would have no idea what it said."
Willie's grandfather was shocked. Excited, Willie read the entire pet classified section out loud, from the dogs all the way to the horses. Just like that, Willie stopped learning to read and became a reader.
"I love reading now," he says. "Used to be, if you put a book in my hand, I'd say, ‘Take it back.’ Now I've read all the Harry Potter series, and I'm waiting for the next one to come out. I read Lord of the Flies, The Island, and The Notebook. And I just finished a book, The Dreamcatcher."
After struggling through most of grade school, middle school, and part of high school, Willie happily enrolled in college, with ambitions of becoming a history teacher. He also began sharing his story with others.
"I've been going around to schools, talking to students and telling them about my experience. Kids are always coming up to me and saying, ‘I was in the same predicament you were in, and I felt the same.’ And I'm starting to like talking to these kids and think it might be great working with them."
Willie credits his success to the teamwork he had behind him. "In order for Fast ForWord to work, it has to be 50% from the teachers and 50% from the students. Even when I was getting discouraged, Miss Yarborough, my Fast ForWord coach, kept telling me the program was going to help me. My parents really pushed me, too. I think that was one big reason why the program worked, because of all the support I was getting."
Willie Brown is a great story. But it’s certainly not the only one. Fast ForWord products can help students who are struggling to read at any age.
"In just a couple of months, my reading level increased about three years, and I just kept going up from there," he says. "Fast ForWord gave me that nudge, that push I needed to get up the mountain."