Over the last six months, Bea Boweter has been teaching Paul Evans to read.
Unlike Bea’s third graders at Middle Canyon Elementary just starting out in life, Paul has the wisdom of experience. He is retired, happily married and enjoys his grandkids. In his spare time he volunteers with his wife at the LDS Employment Center helping people find work.
But, at age 68, new worlds are still opening up to Paul. He is seeing life as it took place centuries ago, traveling to countries across the world and visiting fantasy lands.
Paul is learning to read.
Six months ago, Paul saw a flyer about the Adult Education Center and seized the opportunity to achieve a lifetime dream. He’d tried many times before, but it wasn’t until he met Bea at the center that he found success.
Bea had been using the Adult Education Center herself to upgrade her computer skills and maintain her certification as a teacher.
When Paul came in, those at the center asked Bea if she would give him one-on-one instruction. The first time they met she had planned to teach for one hour. But, Paul was so enthusiastic the teaching went on for two hours.
That set the precedent for the next six months, during which they’ve met for two-hour sessions, two times a week.
In addition, Paul practices at home several times a day.
“He writes words over and over and over and over,” his wife Rexine explains.
Paul first learned to recognize the letters of the alphabet.
Then he learned the different sounds each letter makes. From there he learned to pronounce groups of sounds called blends.
It’s a method he believes could help anyone learn to read.
Recently, Paul stayed up late into the morning reading Black Beauty, one of several classics he purchased for himself.
He is also reading and highlighting a manual to teach a lesson at his church, and reading the Bible and Book of Mormon for the first time.
“It’s just making me feel good all over, feeling like I can read a book and know what it says,” Paul said. “What it has done is opened a whole new world to me.”
Yesterday at Middle Canyon Elementary, Paul Evans told the third graders how important reading is, but he also stressed they shouldn’t make fun of those who struggle with it. Instead he encouraged the students to support each other.
The students appeared touched and raised their hands to offer stories of friends they’ve tried to help, personal struggles and reading successes.
Paul said he prayed that he could just touch one child — help one realize what a privilege it is to get an education.
He explained to the children that he didn’t get an education beyond the fifth grade.
Paul moved away from a very difficult situation at home at age 10 to earn his way in the world working on a farm.
“It wasn’t much fun at home. So, I got the opportunity to leave and I took it,” Paul said.
Paul hand milked 16 cows morning and night, raised crops, harvested hay with a pitch fork and harvested the grain by horse and buggy. It was a life that provided him security — and three square meals a day.
Unfortunately, the school bus didn’t come every day to the farm located several miles out in the country. And when Paul did get to school, he struggled to read.
“I had dyslexia really bad and they didn’t know what it was back then,” Paul said.
In his school, the “smart kids” were put at the front of the classroom and the “dumb kids” were put at the back and ignored. He was at the back and taunted by the other kids with names like “Dumbo,” “Stupid,” and “Foureyes.” That name calling continued throughout the years he struggled with illiteracy.
“That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. When you do that to people who have a handicap it really hurts,” Paul said. “If they only knew what they were doing when they do that to other kids they probably wouldn’t.”
Through the years, Paul has signed up for other literacy programs offered through the government. But each time after a few classes, those who showed up dwindled rapidly and the classes were eventually canceled. The other men were afraid people would make fun of them.
Paul encourages those who want to learn to come to the Adult Education Center.
“I tell you what, there’s no making fun of you or criticizing you. All they do is ask questions so they can find out the best way to help,” Paul said.
Paul himself wasn’t worried about what people thought of him — he just wanted to learn to read.
But, over the years it’s been particularly painful to his wife to see him ridiculed. Rexine had been attending college to become a journalist when they met.
“That’s one thing that amazed me. There she is smart as a whip and she’s going out with me,” he said.
Rexine says she was impressed with him because she could tell he was a good guy.
“He was respectful and treated me good. I guess I just fell in love,” she said.
She had tried to help him with his reading, but didn’t know “all the ways of going about it” — or anything about dyslexia.
Over the years Paul has successfully earned a living to support his family. He has done everything from digging trenches with picks to working at the smelter.
“I was a laborer. I did anything and everything I could to make a living as long as it was work,” he said. “….That’s why I say it behooves all these young people today to go to school.”
Today he stresses few jobs are available to those without education because everything is turning to computers. He is currently learning computers himself.
In addition to Bea, Paul gives appreciation to his wife, a supportive bishop, an enthusiastic daughter, kind neighbors, those at the adult education center and most of all God for his success.
“Through Him I guess anything is possible,” said Paul. “… every time I go to my studies I get on my knees and I’m not ashamed to tell nobody that.”
Paul hadn’t known the resources were available. But now that he does, he encourages others to take advantage of them.
“I’m 68 years old and I’m learning to read. So, if I can do it anyone can do it, if they really want to,” Paul said, “and if there’s anyone else who can’t read, I’d advise them to go down there because it’s one-on-one.”
The Adult Education Center in Tooele is located at 76 S. 1000 West. Classes, computer access and tutoring are available.
For more information come in or call 833-1994.