Hamilton resident’s passion for literacy leads to Newspaper Code
By Mark Newman, News Staff
Literacy is a passion for Justin Page.
“I eat it and sleep it,” said the 62-year-old former east Mountain resident, who spent half his life functionally illiterate.
Page has recently developed what he calls a Newspaper Code that is intended to help people with marginal literacy skills or those who are learning English as a second language teach themselves how to read.
“It comes from me wondering how I wanted to learn myself,” said Page, who noted the system is basically a modification of the method he used to teach street people to read inTorontoin the mid ‘80s.
“I started putting circles around two or three letter words and it magically happened.”
Page said code users can pick up virtually any newspaper and begin circling the one to four letter words they recognize.
They also circle small words inside big words.
After that they put a box around 1-4 word sentences and then add up the circles and boxes.
Then using the U-Can Dictionary code users check off the words they know.
For words they don’t know they are encouraged to ask someone or call a help line that has been set up.
U-Can is a self-teaching dictionary with about 7,000 1-7 letter words that Page and his ex-wife published last year after about three years of word collecting and support and assistance from family and friends.
Most are root words with simple definitions.
The dictionaries have been distributed to a number of literacy groups around southern Ontario and are used by the tutoring program that is run by Neighbour to Neighbour Centre.
Page, who is still fine-tuning the code, wants to put it in future editions of the dictionary and on bookmarks, t-shirts and coffee mugs.
“It will be on anything I can put it to,” he said.
Page noted his six-year-old son Jack quickly picked up on the system and is now mastering words of four letters and more.
This burly and gregarious former street youth with lots of tattoos could not read until he was 33 and even now admits to still struggle with some words.
“I couldn’t read at all,” said Page who left Hamilton for Toronto at age 15 where he mingled with street people, slept in hostiles and on park benches and had a few run-ins with the law that saw him end up in youth detention centres.
As an adult he spent two years in prison in the mid ‘70s for threatening a witness in court.
He was later pardoned.
After prison Page said he attempted to apply for welfare but could not read the application form and was eventually sent to the HELP program for ex-offenders that is run by Frontier College.
Through the program he learned to read and got a job working with street people.
“They brought me up to Grade 4 (reading level),” said Page, who soon found he had a gift of being able to take his new found skills and help others like him learn to read. “I walked in as a student and (became) an assistant to the president of Frontier College a year or two later.”
In 1985, Page helped start the Beat the Street, a peer-tutoring program for street people and his work with that program saw Page invested as a member of the Order of Canada in 1990.
A now former cottage rental operator in Port Elgin, Page said no one ever paid attention to him in school and he always found ways around not being able to read by, for instance, counting the number of subway stops so he would know where to get off because he couldn’t read the sign.
Born Tracy LeQuyere, Page said he legally changed his name about 20 years ago because he was getting tired of people confusing his gender and mispronouncing his name.
He said his name comes from a Hamilton bar musician in the late ‘60s.
“I wanted it simple so I’d remember how to spell the damn thing,” he said.