1. Florida

Hillsborough students say their love for reading waned over time. ‘I’d rather go outside.’

Fond early memories of green eggs and ham, and hungry caterpillars, gave way to drudgery in school.
From left, Caleb Asher, Mckenzie Semler, Jordan McClellan, Jaylen Wharton and PJ Knight take notes in Jeannette Teeden's classroom at Durant High School in Plant City on March 15.  [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
From left, Caleb Asher, Mckenzie Semler, Jordan McClellan, Jaylen Wharton and PJ Knight take notes in Jeannette Teeden's classroom at Durant High School in Plant City on March 15. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Apr. 17
Updated Apr. 17

As part of its special report on reading in Hillsborough County schools, the Tampa Bay Times surveyed more than 70 students at four middle and high schools to describe their first memories of reading and how they feel about reading now. In addition, a group at Durant High School participated in interviews on the subject.

While it is often impossible to remember learning how to read, most of the students had happy memories of their early experiences with books.

They were proud the first time they could write their names. They enjoyed story time in kindergarten. They spoke fondly of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. They ate green eggs and ham at school after reading the Dr. Seuss book by the same name.

“When we were younger, it was a lot easier to just pick up a book and read,” said Angel Gonzalez of Durant. “In second grade my teacher took us all to the library and we went to the book fair and she told us to go get something that we like, so I got a basketball book because that’s my hobby, basketball, and the book was just amazing. I read that thing like 24 times.”

Gonzalez, who is now in a reading class to complete his requirements for a high school diploma, said his study habits deteriorated when he reached middle and high school. “I was just following people,” he said. “I took the wrong route, and I just gave up on school.”

Some of the Durant students said reading became more difficult in the later years of elementary school, and as they entered middle school. They were given articles that did not hold their interest; and tests that filled them with stress.

“The books got harder and they wanted us to read higher level stuff,” said Chase Lingo.

About half the high school-aged students said they read when reading is assigned to them at school. Outside of those assignments, they read texts, emails and captions on anime cartoons.

Those who were assigned extra reading classes to improve their skills described the need to pass tests so they would not have to take reading any more.

Some complained about eye strain when they are asked to read on computers or other digital devices.

“I’m not going to lie,” said student Markeirionna McDuffy. “Reading, it makes me sleepy. I’ll sit at the computer and I’ll read it and I’ll answer some of the questions. But after a few minutes, I’ll be sleepy and I won’t want to read."

Others said the frequent testing diminishes students’ enjoyment of reading.

“I see the tests are getting harder and harder and it’s harder to get high scores, so a lot of people are getting disappointed,” said Elian Ramirez. “They give up too easily. It’s like a way to stop reading. So it’s just on school sometimes, because it’s just too much pressure and knowing you’re not doing so good, you give up.”

Senior Felicia Mitchell became so discouraged after years of not quite passing her reading tests that she began to believe she was not cut out for reading.

“It just made me feel like I didn’t fit in with academic learning,” said Mitchell, an accomplished bowler who played soccer and basketball as well. “I thought, some people are more athletic than academic, and vice versa.”

As for reading, she said, “I only did it if it was necessary in a class to do. I didn’t complain about it, but I did it.”

Mitchell needed to complete the reading requirements for her high school diploma so she could take advantage of a bowling scholarship to college. She got the score she needed in October on the SAT, which can be substituted for the state’s reading test. This August, she plans to attend the University of Northwestern Ohio.

Reading is still not something she would do for pleasure, she said. “I’d rather go outside.”


  1. James Dailey, 73, faces execution for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. [Times]
    In a series of written orders, U.S. District Judge William Jung rejected appeals from lawyers who argue James Dailey is innocent of a 1985 Pinellas County murder.
  2. FILE - This Nov. 1, 2018, file photo, shows the Google logo at their offices in Granary Square, London. [ALASTAIR GRANT  |  AP]
    Google search data reveals what topics people in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area were most curious about this year.
  3. An Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, of St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including Haitham in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN  |  AP]
    Foreign citizens can’t buy guns unless they first get a hunting license
  4. Rodney Davis, 56, shown in video released from the Polk County Sheriff's Office of Operation Santa's Naughty List. Davis, a Disney World security guard, is accused of soliciting prostitution. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
    His arrest was one of 124 in Operation Santa’s Naughty List, a prostitution and human trafficking sting from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
  5. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
The closed sign hangs on the entrance of the tract at Oldsmar BMX, 3120 Tampa Road, in Oldsmar on Friday, May 3, 2019. The world famous BMX track in Oldsmar shut down suddenly earlier this year. The city cited safety concerns after a routine building inspection, and a subsequent report confirmed that serious structural issues in the track's walls exist. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The track remains closed indefinitely.
  6. Evenaud Julmeus mugshot. [Haines City Police Department]
    “The police will find you a new home," the man said to the child, according to police.
  7. Roxanne Amoroso quit as a board member of the troubled St. Petersburg Housing Authority after less than five months. [St. Petersburg Housing Authority]
    Roxanne Amoroso quit the St. Petersburg Housing Authority over concerns it lacks the expertise to handle Jordan Park redevelopment.
  8. Sarah Henderson with her son, Braden, who was committed under the Baker Act after a joking remark at school. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A cop car comes. A child is handcuffed and taken to a mental health facility. The scene is all too frequent at public schools across the state.
  9. Technology jobs in industries including aerospace are highly coveted. A SpaceX Falcon heavy rocket lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral earlier this year. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
    Five metro areas dominate high-tech employment. There isn’t a Florida city among them.
  10. A brighter outlook: A University of Florida survey of Floridians in November found consumer confidence higher than the average of the preceding 12 months.
    A monthly survey by University of Florida researchers found Floridians feeling more optimistic about their personal finances and the economy in general.