At 13 he couldn't read
Now CMU graduate shares how he pushed himself to overcome inabilitySunday, May 09, 2021
BY CANDIECE KNIGHT
MAX The Cat. That's the title of the first book that Vaughn Golding stole and started teaching himself to read from when he was 13 years old.
The teen, then in grade seven, had sneaked off with the book from school one day after a particularly embarrassing class activity, determined that he wouldn't return it until he knew all the words of the grade one story.
“There was an incident that day where the teacher called me up in front of the class to read, and I just didn't know how to,” Golding, now a Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) graduate, shared with the Jamaica Observer on Read Across Jamaica Day last Tuesday. “I hid and went outside to wait it out, but when I came back the teacher still wanted me to go up to read… and I just couldn't read. From there, I looked into myself and said I had to learn how to read.”
The boy fumbled his way through Max the Cat for several nights, trying his best to recall the letter sounds on his own. Eventually he felt confident enough to return the book.
“Then I started taking more and more books and reading them,” the past student of Kitson Town All-Age School in St Catherine said. “In the daytime I would idle, but I'd try to read one or two pages in the night. At the end of grade seven I was reading at the grade two level. When I started grade eight I was getting better. By grade nine I was reading at the grade five level, but I still wasn't very good.”
Having been unsuccessful in both the grade six and nine achievement tests (GSAT and GNAT), Golding was placed at Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) in Spanish Town when he left the all-age school.
“There I started reading at the grade six level, and I kept progressing at all times. I did one year there, then in 2011 I got a transfer to Tacius Golding High. I was placed in the best-performing class for a GNAT transfer student,” Golding recalled proudly. “I would say I fully grasped reading when I was 16. At that point I could just take up a newspaper and read it, with next to no stutters.”
Despite the significant progress he had made, and despite being recommended for some subjects, Golding left high school without sitting any external exams.
“Unfortunately I didn't leave high school with any subjects because none were paid for,” he lamented. “I was qualified to sit integrated science and social studies in CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate) and I got qualified for City & Guilds maths and English…but no subjects were paid for.”
As one of 10 children for his mother, Golding was sent to live with his dad — a construction worker — from a tender age. Being the only child in the home, the boy was often left up to his own devices in the days while his father was at work. Not much attention was paid to his schooling.
“I didn't have the help and the push behind me in education. I think if I had gotten a better start, I would be further in life now,” he reasoned. “I didn't have any guidance. I was a loner, just doing whatever I wanted. I was on the streets all the time. As a boy child, they would have it to say I was rude or just bad, but nobody really took the time out to ask about school or try to teach me something. Sometimes you just need someone around you.”
But although he didn't have much parental guidance, the little boy had one guardian angel watching out for him from a distance. A Thelma Reynolds, he recalled, saw him crying on the street one day after losing the only $20 he had to buy lunch at school, and intervened.
“She saw me walking and looking, and she gave me $50 that day and told me that I should stop there and ask when I didn't have lunch money. We're not related but I think of her as my grandmother,” he said fondly.
After leaving high school, Golding resorted to doing odd jobs on construction sites, car washes and garages to provide for himself. But even then, Reynolds encouraged him to further his education and helped to get him enrolled in the HEART skills training programme.
“She helped me with the school fees and so on to start HEART, but she had an accident and died on May 15, 2015 — two months after I started school there,” he remembered emotionally. “From there I've had the determination in myself that I'm going to make her proud. I sent myself to school from there and I did very well in HEART. I was one of the brightest persons in the class and I was among the top three best welders.”
Based on his outstanding academic performance and work ethic, after earning his level three certificate in welding and fabrication Golding received a scholarship to further his studies at CMU.
“I completed the course at 'Maritime' in marine and offshore welding and I graduated November 15, 2019,” he beamed. “I also did on the job training at German Ship Repair in the Kingston Freezone.”
Then came the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the young man, who is among the group of CMU graduates yet to receive their certificates from the institution, found himself wondering what was next. He decided to keep learning, and therein he found a way to earn.
“Right now I'm venturing into another skill area — automotive air conditioning,” he said. “I started by sitting and Googling and reading all about ACs. YouTube is also a very interesting place. You can sit and learn anything you want to know from there, once you can pick out the good things. So at this point there is no work because of corona, but I get by with the AC.”
The 25-year-old plans to further his education formally in that area as soon as he is able to, but in the meantime he will continue to teach himself how to survive — one word at a time.
While he now has a good relationship with both his parents, Golding urges others not to leave their children's education up to chance.
“Looking back, I wouldn't have much advice for my younger self. The advice I would give would be to my parents, and others: Try to be there for your children and help them in any way you can,” he said contemplatively. “But at the same time I have to also think about the illiteracy of my parents. They didn't have education like that so they didn't see the value that much. Now that I've grown up, I know the real value of it and I still try to tutor myself in whichever field I'm in. I just try to be my best.”
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