The nightmare began at the age of 7 for Monica Boyd of Barrett Station, when she was labeled “special ed” and judged unteachable. Years later, she walked across the stage at her high school graduation, but without the ability to read her own diploma. Monica was 18 years old and illiterate.
“I would ask God on so many occasions to please let me graduate from high school because, I wanted to make my parents proud of me,” Monica said.
Although Monica received loud applause from the audience as she walked across the stage, she still felt a lack of accomplishment. “I knew they were clapping because I was a special education student who was graduating, not because I was successful.”
Monica left her graduation with non-existent self-esteem and words echoing in her head from a school counselor who said she would never earn more than $5 an hour her whole life.
Like many kids, Monica wished to read in front of her classmates. “I always felt like I wasn’t applying myself, because I wasn’t able to read like other kids in class,” Monica said.
One day she approached her teacher and asked if she could practice one section of the book for next day’s lesson. Monica wanted to read that section in front of her peers.
She left school excited, arrived home, and her parents coached her on that one section. The next day she waited for the teacher to choose her to recite the rehearsed passage. Instead, her worst nightmare occurred.
“She picked me to read the passage just after the one I had practiced,” Monica said. “I was humiliated because I just sat there stumbling through the words while my classmates laughed.”
Over the years, Monica worked as a security guard at a nearby mall and various other security-related jobs. At every place, Monica’s co-workers belittled her. They would accuse her of cheating on work-related tests because she would pass and ridiculed her for not being able to write report logs or read manuals to learn new equipment.
Little did her co-workers know that days before taking those tests, her parents would read the entire test-related book to Monica to help her prepare. “Because of my struggles with reading, I knew I would have to prove myself more than most people so I would be taken seriously.”
“So many people didn’t believe in me,” Monica said, “and it made me not believe in myself. But through it all, I always wanted to make my parents proud of me.”
Although those memories still haunt her, it didn’t stop the fact that Monica was a fighter with a sense of determination boiling inside her.
That determination spurred Monica to enroll in a reading course at Lee College located in Baytown, Texas. However, her professor quickly realized that Monica had a problem. He took her to the side one day after class and told her about a woman at Baytown’s Sterling Municipal Library who could help her learn to read.
Monica took his advice and went to the library. After several months, Monica learned to read for the first time in her life. “God always seemed to be everywhere in my life,” Monica said. “God sent me to people, and he also sent them to me. These people helped me become a fighter for myself.”
Then one day Monica’s world turned upside down when she was told her son, Jermane would be placed in special education because he was reading at a Pre-K level while in second grade.
“I refused for my son to experience the same life I had been living,” Monica said. “I didn’t want to fail him because I wasn’t able to read well, but I knew both of my kids were struggling.”
Monica asked Jermane’s teacher not to put him in special education, telling her that she would find help for him. Monica was told that nothing could be done to help Jermane, and that he would never be like other kids.
“I refused to believe that. I was going to help my kids. I didn’t want them to be like me – being made fun of their whole lives. I could see them hurting inside,” Monica said.
So with the financial help of her parents and advice from Lee College friends, she enrolled Jermane at Baytown’s Sylvan Learning Center.
“Brian from Sylvan asked me if I believed in my kids, and I said, ‘yes.’ He said, ‘good because so do we at Sylvan.’ Normally, I don’t ever feel like I fit in, but at Sylvan I did because of their sweetness and excitement.”
Within six months, Jermane was reading at a beginning second-grade level, proving his teacher’s original assessment wrong.
Jermane approached Monica one day and told her that when he grows up he wants to be a teacher “to help kids like me and to fight for them.”
That “fighting” part stuck with Monica.
Now that Jermane was on track with his reading, Monica had another blow to her heart. Her daughter, Marissa, was experiencing the same difficulties in school. Marissa was reading at a third grade level while enrolled in sixth grade. This time, however, Monica didn’t feel helpless.
“I went to my parents once again to co-sign on the loan to get help for Marissa at Sylvan, and my dad looked at me and said, ‘I wish we could have done this for you, Monica,’” Monica said. “I told him that he and Mom made me who I am today. They made me a fighter, and that was important to me.”
SENSE OF PURPOSE
Marissa jumped from third-grade reading to sixth-grade reading before the end of the school year. While meeting with Marissa’s teachers one day, Monica noticed a group of special education students. “At that moment, I knew I wanted to help them and I prayed to God to help me fight for them,” Monica said. “I feel like I found God’s purpose for my struggling all through life.”
That new purpose motivated Monica to establish the Monica Boyd Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to help K-5th grade students who are reading significantly below grade level and are in need of supplemental tutoring.
In partnership with area school districts and with Baytown’s Sylvan Learning Center, the Monica Boyd Literacy Foundation offers scholarships to local families to reduce financial barriers in tutoring assistance for their child.
“I always wanted to feel like I belonged and I always dreamed about being a teacher so I could make a difference in the lives of children like me,” Monica said. “Through the Foundation, I’m able to fight for those kids and help their parents fight, too.”