WSFCS SUBSTITUTE TEACHER MAKES STUDENTS FAMOUS FOR READING
To the students, families and teachers of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Johnny Duckett is a bona fide celebrity.
"It can be a little embarrassing," Duckett says. "Students will see you in a restaurant and come over to talk. Parents come up to me on the street."
The reason for Duckett's recognition? His Cool Readers show, a cable program dedicated to promoting reading and literacy in WSFCS. The show first aired in 2000 and has been a mainstay on cable television in the Winston-Salem area ever since.
Duckett created the show after spending time as a substitute teacher in WSFCS. He was troubled that students were struggling with reading, and more, that reading was unpopular. "It's kind of a cliché, but I saw that kids thought reading was uncool," Duckett says. "I wanted to get students to like reading – to make it cool."
At the time, Duckett was also volunteering at Community Access TV and felt that a television program could help kids show more enthusiasm for reading. He worked with Gina Webster, a librarian at Walkertown Middle School, to develop the show's format. They created a show that features interviews with students about how and why they read, along with discussions of their favorite books.
The show has fans all throughout the area, and has featured a lengthy list of Winston-Salem dignitaries including Mayor Allen Joines, City Manager Lee Garrity, City Councilwoman Molly Leight, WSFCS Board member Victor Johnson, Jr., N.C. State Rep. Larry Womble and WSFCS Superintendent Donald L. Martin, Jr.
"I have been on the show and have a Cool Readers T-shirt," says Martin. "Without a doubt, the show promotes reading in and out of school."
Martin also played an important role in the show's history. A few years after the show began, the original home of Cool Readers, Community Access TV, was defunded, leaving Duckett and his show without a broadcaster. When Duckett approached Martin for help, the superintendent invited him to bring the show to Cable 2, the official cable channel for WSFCS. Cool Readers has been there ever since.
Cable 2 station manager Chris Runge says that each episode of Cool Readers reaches every cable household in Forsyth County and airs 30 to 40 times each month.
For the kids who appear on the show, this means a lot of exposure, and with it, some celebrity status of their own.
"When they go back to school [after appearing], if they weren't somebody, they become somebody," Duckett says. "It's a real confidence builder."
Teachers recognize how encouraging the Cool Readers experience can be for students, and Duckett reports that he has never had a problem finding students to invite to the show because teachers recommend so many.
Webster, who frequently suggests students to Duckett, says, "Teachers always like to have an opportunity to let their students shine and share their passion for reading," adding that for teachers and librarians, "anything that helps encourage kids to read is a good thing."
Duckett strongly agrees. He calls reading "the fundamental of all learning," noting that it is a necessary skill for understanding all academic disciplines, even areas like math, science and engineering. Beyond that, Duckett says, "Reading fuels the imagination. It inspires and motivates."
Duckett believes that every school district should have some program or incentive that encourages kids to read, just as Cool Readers does in WSFCS. As for whether he would like to see Cool Readers spread beyond Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, Duckett is unsure.
"I'm not certain how it will expand," he says. "But, you know, I've got dreams, too."