Johnny Duckett was a substitute teacher back in 2000 when it became apparent to him that one of the biggest challenges faced by schools was getting young people – boys in particular – excited about reading.
“I wanted to do something positive,” he said. “I prayed about it.” A volunteer at CAT-TV (the city’s now defunct public access station) at the time, Duckett launched a show aimed at getting students interested in books.
“One way to get kids motivated is through other kids,” Duckett said. “That would inspire other students to read.”
Such a show needed a title that transmitted the right message. “Cool Readers” – that would do the job nicely, he thought.
His connections at the schools where he substituted regularly helped him find students to come on the show. They would read. He would play some music, and they would take calls. From time to time, he would invite special guests like Superintendent Don Martin to drop by. Martin invited Duckett to bring the show to Cable 2 when CAT-TV’s funding dried up.
A show is filmed each month featuring up to four students who each discuss a book they have read recently.
Duckett, whose full-time job is at the city’s water purification plant on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, has loved books for as long as he can remember. His parents, James and Clara Duckett, bought him and his three siblings “Childcraft: The How and Why Library,” an illustrated set of encyclopedias. He has vivid memories of reading the books on summer days.
The 53-year-old father of two has explored several paths – plumbing, real estate, car mechanic, computers – and can talk at length about how important reading is as a tool for being successful in life.
“Because of technology, the distractions are greater,” he said. “If we don’t find ways to get young people excited about reading, there’s a danger they will be consumed by the electronic babysitters. Reading is more important now than ever. The stuff we read does affect our dreams and our imagination. It affects who we become.”
Cool Readers has a page on Facebook, and Duckett recently started a blog, www.coolreadersshow.blogspot.com. In addition to Cable 2, the show can also be viewed on YouTube.