17-year-old Ernesto Ponce had never enjoyed reading until the semester he was forced to spend an hour a day actually reading whatever he wanted.
When I was programmed into Mr. Danziger’s Third Period sophomore English class at Venice High School (for a second time in two years), I thought, “Great, I’m going to be surrounded by immature 15 year-olds.”
But I was wrong.
Since I also enrolled in Mr. D’s Fourth Period senior English class, he told me he didn’t want me to stick around for two straight hours. He said some of the writing assignments overlapped. And besides he was pretty sure we’d get tired of each other if we spent that much time together. So almost every day this semester he sent me upstairs to Venice High School’s library where I was to read whatever I wanted.
Whenever Mr. D handed me a pink library slip I was immediately filled with joy for I finally would be experiencing peace and quiet that is never available at home. I spent most of that hour reading silently.
I am repeating English 10 because two years ago when I entered Mr. D’s class I figured I could skate by and earn a D. But in order to pass I had to show up (more than three times a week) and do the work. I ignored most of his assignments until the 15-week mark but by then it was too late to pass.
My experience in this independent study experiment has been amazing. I love reading book after book, challenging myself to burn through them. I have seen changes in my reading—I read much faster now than I did five months ago. And for the first time since elementary school, I enjoy reading.
Along with my new stack of books that have included The Tribes of Palos Verdes by Joy Nichols, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent came the title Bookworm, which was pinned on me by friends. Although I am teased about my fiction addiction, it’s not a bad title. I take pride in this new found pleasure—reading is now part of who I am now.
By the 18-week mark of a 20-week semester, I had completed twelve novels including Looking for Alaska and The Fault is in Our Stars both by John Green and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. And in the two remaining weeks of the fall semester I will continue to read.
It took me until age 17 to understand the importance of reading. I think every high school student should take a course where they just read all period. But only to read books that they love. For me, reading is someone telling me his or her story while I hang on every word.
With each book that I finish, I think how this experience altered my perspective. I now see that life waits for no one. And sadly, and with the exception of some science-fiction characters, we only live once and death awaits us all.
I am thankful I have been given this opportunity because being banished to the library has taught me to enjoy the little things, like finishing a 500-page book in four days.
That’s something I had never done before. And something I’m sure I would have never been able to accomplish in any other class.
Ernesto Ponce is a senior at Venice High School where he earned an A in both his tenth and twelfth grade English classes this past semester.
photo: Elvert Barnes / flickr