Riding from his home in Takoma Park to the Silver Spring Boys Club, 13-year-old Floyd Jameson (not his real name) was suddenly handed a pen and note-pad by a reporter who could not drive and take notes at the same time.
Floyd was on the subject of one of his favorite teachers, his reading instructor, Marlene Hartstein. This is what Floyd wrote:
Ms. Hartstein go the drug fair and buy M&M for the hole class. And on thursday we have a bingo game. And how wins get some M&M. And she would buy books from out of her pay check from the drug fair. the book that I read it home is soider (Sounder) and grizzarly Adams.
Floyd Morrison, a black student at Takoma Park Junior High, has a face that would bless any magazine cover, is an athlete who hopes someday to be a basketball star, and is one of more than 20 seventh-graders at his school who failed the Maryland State Functional Reading Test this year. He has never read at his own grade level and continues to work two grades below average.
He is what most school principals believe to be the typical slow reader in Montgomery County.
Floyd grew up in the District of Columbia, where he lived in a rented house with four older brothers and sisters, his mother and father. He began school at Bunker Hill Elementary in Northeast Washington. Shortly after, his family moved to the northwest area of the city, near the zoo, where he began first grade at Bancroft Elementary.
His mother worked at a local hospital as a nurse. His father took odd jobs painting houses. Their marriage was shaky at best. Heavy drinking and involvement with another woman caused Floyd's father to be away often.
When Floyd and his mother moved to Takoma Park, to an area of high rise apartment buildings that sit like beached whales among shaded bungalows, it was to begin a new life after the divorce.
Throughout his early school years, Floyd scored well in many of his subjects. He received high marks for such things as deportment, handwriting and spelling. And during those two years in the District, there was no mention of his having a reading problem.
By the time he reached Takoma Park Elementary, however, he was scoring far below normal.
At Takoma Park, Floyd received help in reading -- help his mother, who works nights, could not give him. And his marks were satisfactory. They were never up to his grade level, however. Then in the middle of his third year there, his mother moved them close to relatives in Florida. Four months later, they moved back. When Floyd returned, his work had dropped off considerably.
The As and Bs in science turned into Cs and Ds. In fifth grade, at Piney Branch Elementary, he scored in the fifth percentile nationally in reading, right at the bottom. In junior high, Floyd's poor reading finally caught up with him.
"He might have been able to get by when he was doing things with his hands," said Harstein."But everything now, including science, requires reading."
"Many children who start behind never really catch up," lamented Dick Davis, assistant principal at Takoma Park Elementary. "The gap gets wider and wider as he gets older and older."
Now Floyd is in the Alternative Porgram at Takoma Park. He spends an hour each day in a reading class with Hartstein. This year, she said, Floyd has shown more than a year of progress.
"Maybe it's a stage," said his mother. "The enviornment . . . too much fun. But he'll probably get serious. I don't know when. But I know he's going to learn."