Tuesday, March 20, 2012

15 Minutes (Okay . . . Seconds) of Fame


I don’t usually like being in the spotlight. I’m a children’s book editor by trade. So I enjoy sitting under a tree (or behind a desk, if I must), polishing a manuscript until it becomes a shiny, new book. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a people person by nature—particularly little people. One of my favorite things in the world is reading with children and talking about what we’ve read. It’s amazing what 3- to 6-year-olds come up with.

I’m no stranger to TV, either. I used to work for the children’s television show, Sesame Street. But I worked behind the scenes in the research department—although I did get to peek inside Oscar’s trash can once during a tour of the set, hoping to see his pet elephant Fluffy. (Big disappointment!) As a researcher for the show, I got to spend my days in the New York Public Library (back in the days BEFORE the internet, when we used to go to work in a horse and buggy). Or, I’d get to travel to daycare centers and talk to preschoolers about what they’d learned from the shows we were about to air. Then I would give suggestions to the writers and producers about how to adjust the shows to teach what we were hoping it would.

But when it came time to shoot the Hooked on Phonics infomercial, I was not permitted to stay in my comfort zone—safely behind the camera. Since I’m the editorial director, they wanted me to try my hand at being onscreen. Plus, I had actually used the program with my 5-year-old son, so it made sense. What I didn’t count on was that my son was even more nervous about it than I was. He loves to read and has done amazingly well on the program: He actually went from not being able to sound out words in January to reading at kindergarten grade level by the end of the school year. His teacher was thrilled!

But when it came time to read for the camera, my own little “success story” wanted nothing to do with it. The only way we got Eli to cooperate was to have his big sister, who LOVES the limelight, sit next to him and bribe him with Legos®.

Later, as our production crew criss crossed the country talking to people, we found one amazing Hooked on Phonics (HOP) success story after another: There was Olga who struggled to get from Cuba to the US and used Hooked on Phonics with her daughter, Michelle, 20 years ago. Michelle had such great success with the program that Olga ended up using HOP over the years with other neighborhood kids who were struggling with reading. And now Olga is in the process of getting certified as a reading instructor herself. There was Wannika who used HOP as a child, who is now a teacher and uses the new version of the program with her son and with her students as the school’s phonics curriculum. There was Jennifer and Randy who used the same HOP program with three of their children—each for a different reason: to help their struggling reader catch up, for their typical child who was on track, and for a third child to give her a head start.

Eventually, there were so many incredible HOP stories that Eli’s story ended up on the cutting-room floor. I can’t say that I'm not relieved that my face isn’t on national television. But I’m mostly happy to have been able to personally meet these people first-hand and see the difference that Hooked on Phonics has made in their lives. The whole experience made me both proud and humbled at being able to say that I’m associated with the product.

If you’d like to take a look at Eli’s story that didn’t make it in the infomercial, it lives on in YouTube. Here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqHpuwVKd54

Do you have a Hooked on Phonics success story? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Share it with us here.

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