Modesto boy a success in turning the page

Less than two years ago, Miguel Vasquez was a shy boy who struggled in school. He hated reading and didn't get along with most of his classmates.

Now, the fifth-grader at University Charter School in Modesto writes comedic skits for other students to act, gets good grades and reads every day, mostly science books and comedies.

He even ran for class president, garnering cheers from the crowd when he promised to bring back chocolate milk.

"Last year, my grades were sinking like a shipwreck. Now, they're rising up," said Miguel, 11.

Because Miguel's test scores placed him below proficient in reading, he was eligible for Read 180 at school. The computer program provides accelerated reading help and immediate feedback. Its interactivity is popular with users at elementary through high schools across the country.

School reading specialist Jamey Olney and Miguel's parents said Read 180 was a big key to his success.

"Miguel's always been enthusiastic -- enthusiastic about learning, enthusiastic about school," said mom Dana Bergman, but he usually felt like an outsider, partly because he has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism.

Miguel has shown such a turnaround academically and socially that he was named one of 12 All-Stars across America -- one of three in California -- by Scholastic Inc., the company that started Read 180 and is known for the mail-order book club.

Read 180 staff called University Charter to tell Miguel about his recognition and $1,000 scholarship.

"I was screaming like a chimpanzee," he said about getting the news. "I told them this was the best Monday of my life."

Miguel said Read 180 turned around his academics by making learning fun. He said the program is like playing video games to learn.

"In third grade, getting him to write was like pulling teeth," said Olney. To improve students' reading and writing, she has students write in journals and review books or stories. Olney even infuses performing arts into her time with struggling students, writing raps and songs for them to perform.

Miguel said he didn't like writing because it was "hard for words to come," but that he enjoys it now because it allows him to be creative.

Olney said Miguel's recent test scores should show him proficient in reading this year.

His favorite books include the "Encyclopedia Brown" series and anything about dogs and sea creatures.

"He'd get hunkered down and negative. It was difficult to find ways to get to him," said dad Rene Vasquez. "I think he realized that with a positive attitude, he can accomplish things. A negative attitude never got him anywhere."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.