Happy Cheetah Reading

The Surprising Lesson from a History of Duck Hunting

Whalehead, a hunting club, in historic Corolla

I found the history of the Outer Banks so fascinating. This string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina had channels between the sound and the Atlantic until 1828. When the last channel closed in, the sound gradually became more freshwater. Ducks began to flock there in vast numbers.

Which meant that the hunting was outstanding.

There are stories of men killing 700 ducks a day. This, back before modern refrigerated boxcars, before canned meat and extended shelf life.

The birds were seen as a limitless resource.

Today, the mind boggles at such waste.

But when observant people began to notice the declining flocks, hunting limits went into effect.

And the area had to pivot.

For a time, an unexpected flush of grass in the sound side allowed bass to thrive, creating the best bass fishing in the world. Then, as inexplicably as it had come, the grass died out, and the bass numbers returned to their normal levels.

But by then it was the mid-1950s, and tourism was picking up.

Today the Outer Banks has some duck hunting and some fishing. You can take rides across sand dunes to see wild ponies, play putt-putt golf, or climb ropes in adventure land. There’s hiking, sunbathing, kayaking, and golfing. Plus gardens, museums, lighthouses, and an aquarium.

As a visitor, I appreciated that one county spent $5 million to restore a Whalehead, a gorgeous historic house and country club, and then let my family go through for a few dollars each. What a gift to enjoy! And the house creatively solved the difficulty of not enough tour guides by setting up iPod stations throughout the house. The children took turns pressing play, and we could stay in each spot as long as we wanted. It was interactive and kept everyone entertained. I hadn’t seen this specific creative tourism solution before, and was delighted with the ingenuity.

In fact, that’s how the entire area seemed to me: a study in observation and adjustment, of seeing a need and filling it.

Which reminds me of the Happy Cheetah Reading System. When Dr. Karen Holinga went to school to get her doctorate, she didn’t think, “I really want to write a reading program for struggling students.”

What she really wanted was to understand and help students, and she was happy to do this, one at a time.

But after she had a few decades of experience under her belt, she saw that the need was so vast — 20% of children need some form of remedial help! — she created a program.

For her, it meant more than four years of rising at 4am to figure out the best possible method of teaching children to read. Four years of working through a pilot program, and seeing how students managed. Four years of working with illustrators and editors, of fine-tuning simple instructions, until it is simple enough, that anyone who can read can teach someone to read.

Two hundred years ago, the duck hunters didn’t go out thinking, “I’ll just create a multi-faceted vacation area for families!” That developed over time, and according to need.

That’s the story of the Happy Cheetah brand, too. It wasn’t initially the plan, but now something exciting is coming into existence because of the need.

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