After two weeks with her Team Read student Antonio, Hailey was struggling. Antonio avoided speaking in English. He wouldn’t read. And he never, ever smiled.

“Antonio, we have to read a book,” she’d often say.

The second grader frowned and spoke softly.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish,” she said.

End of conversation.

All around them, other tutoring pairs seemed to click. Other little kids were reading books about marine life, solar power and American presidents. “I felt like I was failing,” Hailey said.

There was one English word Antonio had no problem using. “Boring,” he’d say when she brought him a book on animals.

Hailey tried to introduce all kinds of books. “Boring, boring, boring, boring.”

The only thing Antonio liked to read were the comic book adventures of a ghost named Johnny Boo.

One day, Hailey had an idea. She went to the local library and checked out all the Johnny Boo collections she could find.

“Let’s read Johnny Boo today,” she said at the next Team Read session.

Antonio stared.

“Go on.”

Antonio grabbed one of the comics and started to read aloud. He pointed out goofy characters he liked. Hailey didn’t know about Johnny Boo, so Antonio explained all the jokes.

For the next several weeks, whenever they met, Hailey and Antonio made a routine of telling jokes and making up stories. Antonio started to read more. He returned from the Team Read book boxes with new books he wanted to try.

In time, he confided to Hailey that he was embarrassed by his English. His family had moved to Seattle from Mexico five years earlier, and Spanish was the primary language at home. He also opened up about his playground fights with other kids. The closer they got, the more Antonio relaxed, and the more books he finished.

Antonio’s teacher Mrs. Sanchez noticed the change. “Whenever I checked in with Antonio and his tutor, they were reading.”

Earlier in the year, Antonio was getting in trouble a lot for anger issues, but his behavior took a switch in Team Read.  “They were always focused,” Mrs. Sanchez said of the pair.

Antonio’s reading jumped a level, then another, then another.

The most dramatic difference, said Mrs. Sanchez, was when she noticed Antonio smile. “He has a beautiful smile, and I never saw that smile during the school day.”

Hailey is delighted by the work Antonio’s done. “His teacher told me I’m doing a great job.”

Mrs. Sanchez isn’t surprised by the pair’s progress. “When you’re happy, you learn. It’s that simple. Antonio knows his tutor cares about him. He knows he’s special, and he’s learning a lot.”