Leobardo: Closing the Achievement Gap

by Literacy Partners

Clock Icon 5 minute read

It’s often the simplest of things that truly impact a child’s development. That point was proven many times over when Leo decided to spend just twenty minutes a night reading to his son, Jonathan.

At the age of seven, Jonathan was one of the weakest readers in his class. Leo knew he needed to find some way to help his son, but how could a thirty-five-year-old high school drop-out with two full time jobs find both the time and the confidence to do so?

It wasn’t Leo’s choice to leave academia. With just one semester left of his high school career, Leo found himself without a place to live. His only option was to turn his part-time job into two full-time jobs, and put off finishing his degree until another day. Sadly, that day wasn’t soon to come. Fast forward seventeen years, and Leo was providing for not only his son, but his four-year old daughter, Hallie. But, when Leo discovered that Jonathan was in need of some extra attention, he knew it was time to become the role model his son deserved.

Leo began attending high school equivalency (HSE) classes in Staten Island, determined to get back on the track he promised himself so long ago. After all, without a high school diploma, Leo lacked the credentials to seek higher education, better paying jobs, and most importantly for his family, a life of stability. He had the intelligence, and he had the perseverance to overcome life’s challenges; now he just needed the degree.

Math and essay writing were top priorities, and with the help of his teacher, Phil Cameron, Leo made the progress he needed to aid his growing confidence. But it wasn’t just the student who came away with something from these lessons. Leo happily shared his love of science, politics, news, and novels with anyone who would listen, and even Phil remarked, “I always learned something in my conversations with Leo.”

Then came the day of his TASC exam (formerly the GED), and Leo was thrown yet another curveball. Not only was he given a faulty calculator, but the migraine he woke with had yet to subside. All seemed hopeless, until his thoughts turned to his children. They gave him the power to push through: Leo passed the test, finally earning his high school diploma. For the first time, he could now feel worthy of the pride his children already had in him.

With his newly found confidence, Leo thought it only made sense to pass on his love of reading to his children. Thanks to Literacy Partners, he now had the tools to do just that. Taking a page from his teacher’s book - instead of forcing the studies - Leo adopted a fun and engaging approach to reading with his son. Twenty minutes a night was all it took, and soon enough, Jonathan was making rapid progress, finishing the school year by jumping up 3 reading levels! He was even recognized as Student of the Month.

Thanks to his father, Jonathan is now excelling in school, he’s confident, and most importantly, he’s having fun. Maybe best of all, after a couple months of Leo reading with Jonathan, Jonathan started reading to his younger sister– passing on this familial love of reading first from Leo, then to Jonathan, and finally to Hallie.

As is the case with so many Literacy Partners students, what Leo learned in class has had a direct and immediate impact on his children. In Jonathan’s case, the impact was tremendous. Not only was Jonathan empowered by seeing his father diligently working on his own studies, but our Books of Their Own program helped them make family reading a daily habit. Little Hallie will no doubt reap the benefits of the work her father and brother did to ensure her success.

But that’s not all for Leo; he’s already well on his way toward his next adventure. Not only is he saving up to buy a house, but he plans to enroll in college to pursue work in radiology. It is truly stories like Leo’s that inspire us to keep doing the work we do. Thank you, Leo, Jonathan, and Hallie! We can’t wait to see what you accomplish next!

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