A Sixth-Grader Learns to Read By Karen Bossick


As 11-year-old Brianna Palencia walked down the hallways of Wood River Middle School, she began blurting out the words on every sign she saw to a friend who was accompanying her.

She continued reading aloud as she walked into her classroom and spotted some new displays set up on one of the tables. She continued her read-aloud marathon right through a PowerPoint presentation.

And, when she got in the car to go home, she opened the glove box looking for something else to read.

No one who saw the demonstration that evening would have believed that Brianna hated to read just a few weeks earlier.

“She is reading everything!” said her excited mother, Hilda Palencia. “All she wants to do is read. It’s so wonderful!”

What was even more amazing was that Brianna’s love for reading blossomed in just three hour-long lessons using a unique reading system named Nardagani.

Brianna is the middle child in a family that moved to the tiny town of Bellevue, Idaho, because her parents loved the peace and quiet the small town afforded them and the good people they found there.

“It’s a good place to raise kids,” said Hilda.

Brianna seemed to think so, too—at least when she was playing on the swing in the park near her home or making snowmen with her friends.

But she had one problem that made her life frustrating. She couldn’t read.

She was a sixth-grader but reading at kindergarten level. Fellow students made fun of her when she was asked to read in class. And they made fun of the “little” books she carried around, comparing them with their own “bigger” books.

“She always had trouble reading,” said her mother. “I’d try to get her to read to me and 15 minutes later she would completely shut down and say, ‘I’m not reading to you no more.’ She’d even hide her books so the kids wouldn’t see them.”

It wasn’t that Brianna didn’t try. A hard worker, she tried to make sense of the words on a page again and again. But she couldn’t sound out the words that she saw.

“I’d have her read to me and I’d say, ‘C’mon. Try to sound it out.’ But she just got so frustrated,” Hilda said. “She wanted to sound them out for herself but she couldn’t. She’d say, ‘I don’t want to try because I don’t know how.’ Unfortunately, I think her reading problems affected her other classes, too.”

School officials offered to put Brianna in a special reading program that would pull her out of class 20 weeks of the school year. But her mother opted to enroll her in Nardagani, which promised she could be reading in four to six hour-long sessions.

The system that the reading program’s originator Narda Pitkethly showed her clicked.

“Two weeks before, she hated reading,” said Hilda. “Then Miss Narda came and she loved Miss Narda—she likes that teacher. And now she loves reading. Now she goes through magazines, whatever’s available that can be read. She can’t get enough.”

“I like Miss Narda,” echoed Brianna. “And I like the one-on-one attention she gives me.”

Nardagani provided the young girl with a Sound Map that maps out the 38 sounds of the English language. And it showed her 12 simple symbols that she could use to eliminate the guesswork in reading.

She started coming home eager to tell her mother about the story she and Miss Narda had read earlier that day. She became excited when Miss Narda gave her bigger and harder books to read.

After five lessons, she was reading at fourth-grade level. And she wanted to read even more difficult pieces.

“I like reading with Miss Narda. The symbols—they help me,” she said.

“I like it because she’s become more confident about her reading,” said Brianna’s mother. “It makes her happy now to read a book. She’s always so excited when Miss Narda gives us a new book to read. And she’s even pestering me to buy different books. I wish we’d had this five years ago.”

Brianna loves the new world she’s found in the pages of books—a world of cats and dogs and horses that have her thinking about becoming a veterinarian.

A few nights ago, she read a story about a dog to Pitkethly, who had stopped by to see how she was doing.

As Narda got up to leave, she heard Brianna tell her mother, “I’ve got a great new book to read to you, Ma!”

“I just smiled as I closed the door behind me,” said Narda.