This is true story of how one person’s vision of literacy for everyone began in the back room of the old “Friendly Place” restaurant in East Palo Alto, and what happened as a result of her passionate and tireless dedication.
On a fateful day in 1999 Mary Wright Shaw attended the same publishers’ meeting that I did, where we all held up our books and briefly described them. She introduced herself to me afterwords, and said Phonics Pathways was just what she was looking for to begin a tutoring program for the many Pacific Islanders who were moving into East Palo Alto, and experiencing difficulty learning how to read in school.
Shortly afterward, with the help of Jean Bacigalupi, YES Reading was launched at the low-scoring Belle Haven School , consisting of 150 children tutored by Mary and her golfing buddies from the Stanford Gold Club.
I made frequent and continuous trips to Belle Haven to train the tutors, which grew to include Palo Alto community leaders as well. Soon Molly McCrory hopped on board, an extremely talented and energetic lady who arranged for a portable building to be housed on the Belle Haven campus, and single-handedly furnished it with desks and chairs donated by the Stanford Athletic Club.
At first kids had to be dragged in for tutoring, kicking and were terrified, but they soon grew to love the program and it was actually hard to get some of them to leave when the session was over with. One young boy remarked “I learned a lot, and it felt good. The tutors helped me learn to read. Now, after I sound out a big word, I know what it means. I am so proud and happy!”
Using Phonics Pathways, students in YES Reading improved one grade level in reading after only 1.5 months. (In comparison, Sylvan Learning took 3 months.) Improvement from illiteracy to 3rd grade literacy level took 5 months. (Sylvan Learning took 9 months.)
Mary Shaw stated, “The YES Reading Board envisions our tutoring center as a model that could be replicated in other communities, working in partnership with teachers and schools to help solve the problem of illiteracy in today’s complex and multinational society.”
And that is indeed what happened as a result of Mary’s and her team’s tireless and dedicated efforts! YES Reading became a highly successful state-of-the-art reading center, and soon expanded to San Mateo, Santa Clara, and the East Bay.
In 2008 YES Reading Center changed its name to Reading Partners, a non-profit organization funded through grants and donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. At the present time it serves almost 2,000 students in 25 new school sites nationwide. It has evolved into a wildly successful program that has changed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged students all across the country.
I call this a “True Fairy Tale” because while most fairy tales end with “..and they lived happily ever after” real life doesn’t usually end that way. But this time it did. Thanks to Mary Wright Shaw’s vision, energy, and dedicated passion just a few years ago, it truly is a dream come true!
Thanks Mary, with much love and admiration always!