Centennial High School’s Yousif Naisan was recently celebrated for being one of only three high school students in the nation to be recognized as a Read 180 All-Star.
Now entering his junior year now, Naisan is originally from Iraq. He moved to America in fifth grade.
Representatives from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the organization that sponsors Read 180 programs, and faculty from Centennial presented Naisan with a $500 visa gift card.
Read 180 is a literacy program used across the nation in order to help students who struggle with reading. The program is also tailored for students who are English language learners, which is what Naisan used to identify with, considering he was fluent in Assyrian and Arabic before.
“When I first started school, it was honestly learning English — that was the major (struggle) — reading, spelling, all that.” Naisan said. “When I first came here I didn’t know how to read. My Read 180 teachers taught me, and I got way better.”
Naisan is now on par with his grade level’s English skills, but according to Mary Pedraza, an English language development teacher at Centennial, things we’re not always like this.
“When (Yousif) first arrived, he was in my classroom, and he knew a little English — his English was basic — and what these students need to do is they need to pass a state exam to prove their proficiency level,” Pedraza said.
“Because he was at a basic level, I knew that I would have to work hard with him, but he had a work ethic to get where he needed to be, and it’s taken him so far.”
Becky Hungerford, an English teacher in the Read 180 program, also worked closely with Naisan and praised his determination in the classroom.
“The (Read 180) program is based on individual growth and a students ability to monitor their own progress — Yousif took that very seriously,” Hungerford said.
“Each time he would take the Reading Inventory, which determines his level, he really focused on it and cared personally about it.”
In the Read 180 program, a 50-Lexile point gain is one year’s growth. Naisan went from a Lexile score in the 600s to a 1,120 — or 162% of growth — two years later.
“(Yousif) has made over 10 years growth within two years — that to me goes back to his work ethic,” Pedraza said.
“He was so determined — he didn’t necessarily want to prove it to other students, but he wanted to prove it to himself — and he did.”
Naisan has tested out of the Read 180 program and is now considered a proficient student, which also allows the state of Arizona to recognize him as a proficient English speaker. This means Naisan will mainstream into the regular education classrooms throughout the rest of his high-school career.
Naisan described his success as a lengthy and work-loaded process.
“I honestly improved from fifth (grade) to sophomore year a lot — especially in my freshman year. I got a lot better in English because I started practicing everyday and my family supported me,” Naisan said. “I am where I am today because of Read 180 and reading.”
The Read 180 Universal program is new to the Peoria Unified School District (PUSD). Read 180 Next Gen was used in previous years. Michele Cook, an account executive for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, praised PUSD for being a “model district,” and further explained how the program has proven to be beneficial for struggling learners.
“Our struggling learners a lot of times feel down — they have a more fixed or negative mindset of ‘I can’t read. I’m never going to be able to learn how to read,’ and that growth mindset really teaches the students that failure is OK,” Cook said. “In order to truly grow, you need to look at that failure and say, ‘How am I going to change this?’”
On the verge of tears, she continued, “I chose to come and represent Read 180 because it changes lives,” Cook said. “We can make sure students like Yousif and his colleagues in the classroom get the tools and the programs that they need so they can graduate and then move on to careers and be solid contributing members of society.”
As Naisan continues through his high-school career, he plans to attend college to fulfill his dream of being either an air traffic controller or a pilot.