Adult Learner Stories: I Couldn’t Spell Green

This is a story that might make you angry. It might make you sad. In the end, it will fill you with warmth. This particular story starts the same as thousands of others. However, in the end this is “Henry’s story.”

In 1950s rural Kentucky, a young boy was trying to balance his chores on the farm with his school work. Henry’s family, most of them not formally educated, was not enjoying the benefits of the post-war economic boom happening across much of America. And at just 8 years old, Henry’s family needed his help on the farm, so Henry left school.

Throughout his life, Henry worked hard. Today he’ll tell you he is proud of his work. He farmed, painted houses, drove trucks, and did custodial work. “It was hard growing up and not knowing how to read,” Henry said. He relied on his mom, who read a little. As an adult, Henry stayed in his childhood home with his younger brothers and sister.

In his 40s, Henry married and moved to southern Indiana. His wife read well and had a good job. It was with her help that Henry was able to read road signs while driving trucks. She also taught Henry to vote.

In 2010, Henry came to The Literacy Center wanting to learn to read well enough to read the Bible. His initial assessment showed that he didn’t recognize many sight words, such as to, has, and she. Additionally, Henry was unable to write the alphabet.

Courtney, Henry’s education coordinator, discovered that Henry was a musician. He plays multiple instruments, yet had never learned the ABC song. This is when things began to turn around for Henry. Courtney printed the sheet music for Henry and told him to learn the song, and that it would help him to be able to place the letters in the correct order. Henry came back one week later, able to write all 26 letters in the alphabet.

“Henry needs less help with words. He will sound them out by himself now. Eight months ago he was unable to blend the sounds together, and he had very little understanding of blends and digraphs. I am so proud of his accomplishments,” Courtney said.

“In the last year, I couldn’t spell green,” Henry said. “If I saw a word like perfect I’d just pass it up. In the last eight months, I haven’t had to ask for as much help. Reading changes lives. It makes you more responsible for your life. Not reading can hurt you.”


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