By Denise Gary
Photographs © Robert Gary

I learned my first life lesson of emotional suffering in others when I was in fifth grade. A paradigm of compassion and respect that would last throughout my lifetime came together in one fateful moment of despair expressed directly to me by a sad, neglected girl cruelly referred to as “Stinkpot” by the entire class. I had played a role in Stinkpot’s sadness, but from that I learned a new ideal—redemption. Wisdom learned at the expense of pain is the way of human development. But sometimes life lessons can positively affect more than the one; they can affect the many. In that way, redemption is multiplied.

I shared the story of Stinkpot and several other serendipitous life moments with the five middle school classes of ASU Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Arizona. The presentation was part of the Kids Need to Read “Reading Revolution” program, produced in partnership with Arizona State University. The presentation explored such topics as the life-changing power of reading, developing life missions, embracing positive life paradigms, and cultivating a healthy respect for all people.

It also served as an introduction to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey. All students received copies of the book to keep, made possible by Avnet Contributions Council.

The presentation was a personal moment of life affirmation. The students at ASU Preparatory Academy defy the stereotypical urban school profile, due to the obvious efforts of the school to provide both a disciplinary, yet nurturing setting. They were polite, respectful, and attentive at all times.

Many of the students approached me privately to express their appreciation and to let me know they were inspired to read the book, despite not being “the type of person who would normally read a book like this.”

Interestingly, males seemed the most affected and appeared to instinctively comprehend the message I was trying to impart—that a book like this was endowed with the power to change the entire course of their existence. Several told me they wanted to live their lives as I described. They were engaged and looking toward the future. This concept is at the very heart of Reading Revolution—inspiring kids to live a truly great life.

The presentation concluded with a life mission exercise, followed by lit circles led by mega-incredible English teacher Andrea Enger.

These activities allowed students an opportunity to apply what they had learned and to open up to each other without fear of ridicule. A reporter from each lit circle summarized the consensus of their group during “ah-ha moments.”

At the end of class, the students shared what they had learned. I marveled at the beautiful things they said about taking in my words, feeling free to open up and connect with each other, and feeling a burden released.

Some students may have giggled at the beginning of the story of Stinkpot, but by the end of the story, they had discerned the very same things I discovered so long ago in fifth grade. When the presentation was over, they also realized they have the power to shape their own futures and can use books as an inexhaustible support system to get them wherever they want to be. May they always remember!

Photo Gallery: Reading Revolution: Inspiring Positive Life Paradigms

Reading Revolution Program Information

Reading Revolution Program Partners

Arizona State University
ASU Preparatory Academy
American Woodmark Foundation
Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation
Avnet Contributions Council
Carus Publishing
National Home Library Foundation
Skype Limited


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