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Teacher creates summer school charity to keep kids on track

English as a Second Language students have little exposure to spoken or written English outside of school. Their parents work multiple jobs and have little time to tutor, consequently the summer hiatus erodes the advancements of even the most capable students. A new program, begun by a Mill Park Elementary School teacher aims to change this for his and other students in the David Douglas School District


Tim Schulze tutors one to two students at a time to provide the most individualized curriculum.
Submitted Photos
Schulze walked students Abdi Mohamed and Ali Abdallah to and from school this summer.
Running through sprinklers, chasing after the ice cream truck, roasting marshmallows over campfires, we all have nostalgic summer memories. The reality may involve a few more video games, a lot more mosquito bites and the bane of having to drag your little sister along. However, for many children of low income or immigrant families, summer takes place not in parks or backyards but at the central courtyard of an apartment complex.

No matter where children spend their summer, one thing is certain - few spend the time brushing up on the lessons learned during the previous school year. For immigrant families, where English is not the primary language spoken at home and periodicals on the kitchen table feature other languages, September reintroduction to school comes like a plunge into an icy river.

Last year Tim Schulze, a first-grade teacher at Mill Park Elementary School - where roughly 90% of the students qualify for a free or reduced lunch and 60% do not speak English at home - saw the setbacks students of immigrant families underwent over the summer break and how much more review time was needed at the beginning of the school year to get these students up to speed. Seeking a solution, Schulze created PDX Summer School, a licensed charity to provide students with the exposure they need to start September ready to progress.

Like most grass-roots efforts, PDX Summer School - launched this year - has started out small. Working with donations and contributions from Mill Park teachers, family and friends, Schulze conducted two, one-hour sessions three days a week throughout August tutoring three students in their specific areas of need.

Schulze said this year's object was to get something off the ground. He did not have the time to put together the Internal Revenue Service paperwork for operating a 501(c)3 non-profit, so they settled for a charity. For now funded through individual donations and private contributions.

Though not run through the school, Mill Park principal Rolando Florez and fellow teachers have provided support through donations of materials and space (Schulze holds classes at Mill Park Elementary School in the library). They also helped with student background information and referrals. The David Douglas School District, of which Mill Park Elementary is a part, has also lent its support to the project.

Tim Schulze's status
He did a long term substitute job for Mill Park first grade teacher Nicole Heinlein while she was on maternity leave from January to March 2010. After Nicole returned, they shared the job until the end of the school year. He taught Thursday, Friday and Nicole taught Monday through Wednesday, splitting the responsibilities of running the classroom.

Schulze is currently deciding which offer to accept for a permanent assignment: a half-time teaching position at Harrison Park in the Portland Public Schools, or a fourth grade teacher for the Gresham Arthur Academy.

He graduated from University of Oregon with a degree in psychology. In 2009 he earned his Masters in the Art of Education from Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Education where he completed the coursework needed to get his English speakers of other languages endorsement, which he completed with a practicum at Mill Park.
One of the students came from Schulze's first grade class, and Mill Park fourth-grade teacher Carrie Foster referred the other two. Foster outlined her students' specific strengths and weaknesses to Schulze so he could design a program to get them back on track. “I talked to their teacher and saw the skills that they have, the skills they needed to work on, and some background on the kids - so that really helped to start my instruction right away,” he said.

Schulze tailored the curriculum to meet the needs of each individual student. Working with limited funds and staff, he paired students with similar deficiencies together. This enabled him to tutor three students in one class to make the most out of the materials at hand. In the future, he looks to recruit more teachers, but only to reach more students, he aims to maintain the 2:1 student to teacher ratio.

In addition to the personalized instruction, students also received a healthy lunch and snack. “That is really an incentive,” Schulze pointed out, since many kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch often go without when at home. However, the everyday complications low-income and immigrant families face created special challenges for the program, making it difficult for Schulze to recruit potential candidates. Even after the scheduling and language barriers were breached, and the parents eagerly embraced the opportunity, transportation constraints prevented otherwise qualified students from attending.

To overcome the problem, Schulze met his students at their home and walked them to school himself, displacing valuable tutoring time. Looking to the future, he hopes to arrange a bussing system to safely transport students to and from tutoring sessions.

“We have a lot of positive feedback from the district and other teachers and Rolando (Florez) is already talking about next year trying to find a bussing service and using different facilities and getting more people involved,” says Schulze. While he would like to reach more kids in need, Schulze stressed that in order to provide the individual attention the students require, the program must remain small, hopefully supplemented by resources within the community.

“I have researched a number of successful summer programs and they all say to bring in other members of the community. He has already spoken to Multnomah County's Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program and hopes to inspire local businesses and leaders of the immigrant communities to get involved as well. Testimony from this year's students could prove a valuable incentive. Schulze himself expressed surprise over their enthusiasm. “They were genuinely excited about going back to Mill Park and learning,” Schulze says, recalling their initial reaction to the program. “When I asked them 'Do you want to go back to Mill Park and learn some reading and math?' they were like, 'Yeah, that sounds great!' I was shocked. If you asked me that question when I was eight years old, I would have said, 'No way.' Not only did the kids want to do it, but the parents really wanted their kids to have the opportunity to do it.”

Schulze recalls going to pick up a student at home and having his siblings and friends begging to tag along. “They want the opportunity to learn, and there is a lack of opportunity now were they live,” he observed. So he encouraged his students to share his teaching tools with others. “I would love to have more kids learning from me, so I say, 'Share the book, play this game with your friends, work on it together.' I am trying to take advantage of the free time those kids have so they can do something more productive.”

Schulze sees this year's session as foundation building for next summer. Over the 2010-2011 school year, he hopes to track the test scores of participants against their eligible counterparts in order to gain grant funding and to establish a non-profit with more teachers and resources that can help more students.

Still, this year's exercise has already built one small bridge across cultures. Schulze noticed that the families he spoke to sincerely wanted these opportunities for their children, but logistically lacked the outlet. Simply asking someone to translate or provide transportation overcame what previously seemed like insurmountable hurdles. “I think that doing this program and coming to these families and having the families see that the teachers and community do care about them creates bonds, so in the future when we ask them come to conferences they do know you. We are always asking for them to come to us, but I think sometimes it is appropriate for us to come to them.” Outreach in action.

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