I want to tell you about an extraordinary man. His name is Fred and he won’t tell me how old he is. I know about him because he writes passionate emails to me every week about the children and schools he is helping. This is the story of a superhero, an amazing school volunteer.
Fred is a retired Aerospace engineer and spent most of his life helping management decide what new business to go after, how to beat out competitors, and how to allocate research and development funds needed to create new products.
He had made no plans for retirement when Hughes Aircraft decided to downsize and laid off 10,000 employees in 1989. As he was going through the termination process at Hughes, he found out that they had a K-12 Education Program already in place. “At the time, “ Fred says, “I didn’t think much about it but a few months later I decided to attend one of their monthly luncheon meetings. I joined their program as a classroom partner with my daughter who was a middle school math teacher. I think it was about 1992 that I started helping schools.”
As an experienced veteran of figuring out the cost / effectiveness of using computers in industry, he applied this knowledge to education. “In the Aerospace companies I worked for,” he says, “I gained experience as a program manager. This skill has come in very handy in working with 25 schools in 7 different school districts.”
Is this amazing? Since retirement, he has spent 17 years and more than 7,000 hours volunteering at different schools, training teachers, fixing computers, and helping children. Because of his professional background, he has prepared convincing presentations to inform principals and parents. This man has more energy than many 20 year olds I know, and over the years has helped countless children in different schools learn to read and write.
Ten years ago he watched his six year old granddaughter playing with Read, Write & Type software on her computer and was surprised that she was learning so many different skills and was so engrossed in what she was doing. At age six she was learning to touch-type and write out any word she could say. She was learning how to identify the sounds in words and associate them with a letter. But because she was learning to move a finger on the keyboard to create the word on the screen, she was also adding motor memory to the auditory and visual associations she was storing in her brain.
Fred has been an unflagging evangelist ever since. The “efficiency expert” side of him recognized that this program was unique. As he had volunteered in schools, he had noticed that many teachable moments were lost during ordinary classroom instruction as children’s attention wandered, or teachers were calling on other students. But here was his granddaughter totally immersed and delighted, minute after minute.
He told her school about Read, Write & Type, and then volunteered to help the students use it in the computer lab. According to Fred, “My real insight into the efficiency of RWT was when I started working at El Oro Way in May 1999. I ran the computer lab for 4 years from 1999 to 2003. I only taught RWT and gained valuable experience teaching kids in K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th grades and low readers in all grades after school.”
That was ten years ago. Fred has been talking about Read, Write & Type to anyone who will listen since then.
I’m telling you about Fred because schools need HELP RIGHT NOW! The budget cuts are tragic! I talked to a principal yesterday who has a new computer lab, but he can’t hire anyone to teach in it. There’s no money, so no one is using the lab. Classes are larger now as teachers are being laid off so teachers are overwhelmed.
It’s not hard to help children in a computer lab. Volunteers can provide enormous assistance. Even sitting down with children for a few minutes and helping them sound-out a word, showing them what you do with your mouth to make the different sounds as you say a word, can provide an AHA! moment where suddenly a child understands that letters stand for the sounds he is saying. What a joy it is to see that happen! And what a valuable thing you have done with your morning!