By Ukee Washington

By Ukee Washington

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  A Scrabble coach is teaching kids that hard work can pay off. I sat down with him to talk about his mission.

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John Green is a man of letters. He guides games of Scrabble at Julia Ward Howe Elementary School in Philadelphia.

“It’s pretty mind-boggling because you never know what letters you’re going to get,” said fifth grader Bryant Carter.

John told me he got started with Scrabble in a place he never wants his students to be:  prison. “When I was younger, I didn’t hang with the good boys. I hung with the bad boys,” John said.

John served 24 years. Inside, he learned the game to pass the time. He got good, inspiring him to do good. “I was like, ‘Wow, I could really do something different with my life,'” John said.

When John got out, he got a job, joined local Scrabble clubs, started competing in tournaments, and volunteered to coach student Scrabble clubs.

“When you spell words, you get to spell words that you never knew before,” said Sidney Bean, a 4th-grade player.

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John says the game of Scrabble exercises the brain harder than a video game.

“You have to do the work that we used to do 30 years ago for yourself,” John said, “not just push a button and ‘Wow, it’s a great game.'”

Michelle Myers, a third grader, said she loves it. “You’re using words and numbers for the words and you’re adding it up together, so it helps you in reading and math,” she said.

It also teaches the children to work together and to disagree like adults.

In his Scrabble life, John has racked up some impressive words: 389 points for quixotry.

“Have you ever used it in a sentence?” I asked.

John laughed. “Just now, when you asked me what’s my highest word!”

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For the record, quixotry means “a wild, visionary idea.”

Ukee Washington