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Strong resolve

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
Brady Cunningham holds his letter of acceptance to the University of Texas at Arlington on Wednesday at his house near East Sherman Drive and Edinburg Lane in Denton.Jeff Woo
Brady Cunningham holds his letter of acceptance to the University of Texas at Arlington on Wednesday at his house near East Sherman Drive and Edinburg Lane in Denton.
Jeff Woo

Readers go the distance to fulfill 2016 New Year’s resolutions

Today is the third day of the new year and chances are some people’s resolutions are already in the ashcan.

We asked our readers if they were able to keep their New Year’s resolution for 2016. No one boasted to us about making their weight loss or fitness goals but, in true Denton style, many shared their success with reading and education goals.

For example, Sherlene Wright, a receptionist for central services at Denton ISD, kept her resolution to read the Bible from cover to cover, which she said she was able to do twice in 2016. She plans to do it again in 2017.

“I’ll start over and read slower this time,” Wright said on Facebook.

Two other Denton residents met their reading and educational goals in a big way. We asked them to share their secret to success.

Danielle Bradley, reader of many books

A state park ranger, Danielle Bradley already reads one or two books per month, which is a lot compared to the average reader.

“I definitely have a nightstand covered in books all the time,” Bradley said.

In 2012, the Pew Research Center surveyed to find out more about people’s reading habits and learned that about 75 percent of Americans had read at least one book in the past 12 months. Those Americans who said they were reading consumed, on average, six books in a year.

Bradley would be among the most voracious readers in that group because only about a quarter of them read more than an average of one or two books per month.

She set a goal for 2016 to read a lot more: 50 books.

By year’s end, she read 53 books. She read books she had been wanting to read for a long time, books that others had recommended to her and even more books by her favorite mystery authors, such as Nevada Barr and Stephen King.

Barr is best known for her mystery novels featuring Anna Pigeon, a national parks ranger. King is the author of many best-selling suspense and horror books that have also been blockbuster movies, such as The Shining and Misery.

Bradley said if she stumbles upon a book list — for example, an online list of a dozen “binge-worthy” books for the summer — she’ll read those, too.

“I tried to challenge myself by getting out of my comfort zone,” she said. “A few of the books, like The Last Templar [Raymond Khoury] and Devil in the White City [Erik Larson], covered a historical genre I don’t normally read, and Finny [Justin Kramon] was a book I literally pulled off the bookshelf because it had a feather on the spine.”

To make her goal, Bradley sacrificed some television watching, “and some sleep, if the book was a real page-turner,” she said.

For others who want to read more, Bradley recommends starting with a list of books you want to read and map out a schedule, checking in on your goal each week or month to adjust your pace. Talk with others who like to read, too, and share your enthusiasm.

“Once you’ve read a few, and you’re starting to feel confident, take the plunge and try something new,” Bradley said. “You may discover a new favorite genre, or author. I had that happen to me, with The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. He’s from Spain originally, and the text was translated into English.”

She plans on upping her goal in 2017 to 75 books. She wants to read more nature-based books, which she did read a lot more of in college.

“Since I spend so much time outside, I do tend to lean towards books that will take me somewhere else,” she said.

She plans to re-read a favorite, the 1949 environmental classic, A Sand County Almanac, and to fix an embarrassing hole on her list, by finally reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.

The 2005 book about a “nature deficit disorder” for the current generation of children — which Louv says haven’t played enough outside for a host of reasons — has become influential over the last decade.

Bradley said meeting her goal has been infectious for her family and friends.

“It also inspired my boyfriend to read more, and that was really important to me,” she said.

Brady Cunningham, ace of the ACT

Brady Cunningham graduated from high school in 2011 as one of 24 in his graduating class in the tiny Perrin-Whitt school district.

The district is about 55 miles west of Denton in Jack County.

The son of a teacher, Cunningham felt he got a good education in the small district and he did well enough. But his plan was to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps and serve his country first.

Then, unexpectedly, the Marine Corps discharged him for medical reasons.

“I was not really prepared,” Cunningham said.

Without a backup plan, he drifted. He moved to Midland and got into oilfield work for a while, but living there was too expensive, he said.

He was hanging around the wrong people, too, which eventually led to real trouble. To settle his legal problems, he went on probation, but that made it hard to get a job.

“No matter how hard you work, that follows you,” Cunningham said.

His family, however, did what they could to help him get back on his feet. His sister offered to let him move into her place, so last summer, he moved to Denton.

However, he was embarrassed and ashamed, he said.

“I was sleeping on her couch,” Cunningham said. “I told myself I can’t live like this anymore.”

He decided he needed to go to school. He snared a job that paid enough for him to rent a small place of his own. And he hit the books — hard.

He’d always liked science and math. He remembered how inspired he was by his high school physics teacher, who enjoyed the topic so much that even the apathetic teenagers in his classroom didn’t discourage his teaching.

“I felt bad for both him and the students, who could not care less about being there,” Cunningham said. “But the sheer passion he had makes you excited to learn.”

That teacher’s enthusiasm made him think it was possible to pursue a degree, Cunningham said. He took on the job of re-teaching himself math and science step by step.

“I went to the library and checked out a pre-algebra text and then algebra I,” Cunningham said. He worked through all the problems and took prep courses online, too.

He especially liked Kahn Academy for its test preparation help. He took the ACT, a college readiness test, and scored 35 out of a possible 36 points. (The average score is 20.)

He applied for college and was recently admitted to the University of Texas at Arlington for the fall 2017 semester.

Cunningham plans a dual major in physics and math, with a minor in computer science. If all goes well, he will pursue a master’s degree and even his doctorate.

“Maybe in physics, maybe in aerospace engineering,” he said.

His new-found success followed two important lessons he learned in the past year, Cunningham said.

First, to meet a goal, a person has to put in the hours on the basic stuff, just like professional athletes who still practice their foot drills, he said.

“To learn, you have to embrace the boring aspects of any good skill,” Cunningham said. “The routine stuff is way too important to overlook — it’s not going away. You have to front-load that pain.”

The second lesson was more cerebral, but just as important, he said.

“Several times, I thought I’d messed up my chances, but that’s way too self-destructive,” Cunningham said. “I started to realize that I was trying to avoid a feeling of failure, but by not starting, I was already feeling that failure. By not trying, that feeling was not going to go away.”

People shouldn’t let themselves think that they’ve been out of school too long.

Anybody can learn anything, he said.

It’s not too late.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.