1. Entice kids struggling with literacy into the program with enthusiastic encouragement, laughter and sports. Once students are at ease and feel un-pressured, they can begin to read out-loud with confidence. Kids are easily drawn into the group reading sessions by other peer participants – just as Mark Twain’s boy hero, Tom Sawyer, convinced his friends to join the fun with his fence painting project.
2. The quickest way to bring people – even kids – together in a common cause is to focus on a common challenge. From the onset of playing sports with the students, we build that common cause, which is to improve our complacent society. We stress that our complacent society allows their younger brothers, sisters and cousins not to read as well as they should, but that together “we” are going to fix it. Kids like this because they can dream about being heroes who are helping fix the country.
3. Kids voluntarily join this program by signing a literacy contract. The contract builds confidence and inspires kids to not tease each other over something so important as reading. First 25 coaches utilize a passionate, energetic approach to “shock and awe” students into believing in the program and strategy…an approach they rarely experience.
4. First 25 coaches stress eye-contact when shaking hands and giving compliments. First 25 Inc. understands most at-risk kids are desperate for positive reinforcement and coaches give it to them in abundance. Eye contact is critical in this process. When students finally “see” somebody who sincerely takes an interest in them and encourages them, it builds character, trust and respect.
5. First 25 coaches always give simple, supportive compliments such as, “Well done, young man,” and “Young lady, that is fantastic!” Kids thrive when they hear words of encouragement.
6. First 25 coaches openly express empathy in order to nurture respect and a good rapport with the students. When students are disruptive or distracted the coach calmly diffuses the situation by relating his personal experiences to students so they understand they are “not alone” and that their feelings are valid. This approach helps reduce the defensive barrier kids erect when they are corrected and directed by parents, teachers and other adults advising them. Students quickly learn and appreciate that the First 25 coach has “been there” and understands their frustrations and feelings, and ultimately is there to give them support and guidance, not judge them.
7. Everybody wants to feel important. Coaches make all of the kids feel they are part of a larger movement that will help save the country. They believe they can become heroes. This is the strategy we use to inspire older students to return to their elementary schools to tutor and mentor the younger ones. When the older kids start teaching the younger ones to read, we have basically solved the problem. In the future, they will know how to teach their own kids to read.
8. The First 25 program gives each child a “father-type” role model who they believe will never let them down. This is powerful psychologically because the kids feel they must be valuable if someone cares so much.