SAVANNAH, Ga. - If Beach High School hadn't required every student to read 25 books or 1 million words this year, Jaime Wright never would have picked up a novel.
"I'm not a reader," said Jaime, a high school senior.
If the school hadn't provided every student with a book about at-risk inner city teens determined to become doctors, called The Pact, Jaime never would have read it.
"Not if it wasn't assigned," he said.
And if Jaime hadn't read it he might not have made a pact of his own to finish high school.
"Last year I dropped out," Jaime said matter-of-factly. Then he lowered his head, reached down and flicked a silver "Class of 2007" charm affixed to his backpack, causing it to spin.
"The stuff in this book is the exact same stuff I've been through - fights, gangs, trying to get money. It made me realize I was going nowhere. I had to make a pact with myself."
The Pact, by Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt, sat on the Beach High Media Center shelf for two years until this summer, when Media Specialist Dawnique Steel read it with her teenage sons. Their enthusiastic response made Ms. Steel think the inspiring true-life story would interest the Beach High student body.
Much like the main characters in the book, Beach students attend a majority black, high-poverty inner city school where the successes and potential for greatness are often overshadowed by highly publicized incidents of crime, violence and drop-out rates.
But the three men in the book made a pact to help each other achieve their dreams.
They overcame academic deficiencies, worked around financial shortcomings and other social hurdles to finish high school and college. Two became medical doctors and one is a dentist.
Ms. Steel and several co-workers organized a campuswide book club, with the goal of inspiring students to emulate what they read.
Everyone at Beach is reading The Pact - from the principal and the custodians to the students and the secretaries.
All students, faculty and staff members were issued their own personal copy. They all began reading in January.
The story struck a chord.
"I'm on page 128," senior Jabari Jivens said with a wide smile.
"I can relate to them - their home life, trying to keep the lights on and just trying to make it," he said with a chuckle. "I told my momma about it and she stayed up all night reading and finished it in one night."
Jabari has made a personal pact to stay focused and out of trouble so he can graduate and go on to Virginia Tech and then become an officer in the Air Force.
Student groups meet regularly to discuss the book. When they've finished reading, prizes will be awarded to students for the best book-related presentations and projects.
Derrin Aikens plans to finish reading the last few chapters this week.
"I think it shows students that if they're in a situation that seems like there's no hope - they may not have a father figure or even a mother figure - there's still a way out," he said.