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Teacher opens door to learning, GED for Estacada man

by: AlANA KANSAKU-SARMIENTO James McClara, left, and Marc Kottler hold the diploma that McClara received after more than four years of hard work. McClara will be walking at the Mt. Hood Community College graduation ceremony June 10.

Not all students graduate from high school in four years. In fact, it took James McClara the better part of three decades to even consider getting his degree at all.

McClara, 49, grew up in Sandy. Having already repeated the first grade, McClara learned that his school wanted to have him repeat the ninth grade as well.

'My father had his own business, so I decided to drop out and work for the family business,' McClara said. 'My reading and math education was just sixth grade, if that.'

It wasn't until he was almost 30 years old, when his wife suggested something might be wrong, that he decided to visit a doctor. It was then that McClara was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

'I enjoyed school,' said McClara of his early years. 'I just was always wound up, not going anywhere. They have so many students that they work with, but I needed more of a one-on-one.'

In spite of it all, McClara was able to find work well enough throughout his life, whether in construction or with cars. Until recently, that is.

'Now, you have to have a GED or high school diploma for just about everything and anything,' McClara said. 'Lots has changed.'

It wasn't until McClara decided to apply for a job with Les Schwab that he decided to make some changes of his own.

'It started at Hitchin Post Pizza,' McClara said. 'I was there with a couple of friends, and I made a comment about needing to finish my GED. I was gonna be applying to Les Schwab and you need at least a GED.'

It was at that moment that the Estacada Junior High principal at the time, Kevin Olds, overheard McClara and walked over to introduce himself.

'He took my name and number, and said he had a teacher at the junior high who would be interested in doing something like that,' McClara said. That teacher was Marc Kottler.

'He was my best student that year,' Kottler said. 'We moved mountains. No one in the world works harder than James.'

This is Kottler's seventh year teaching at Estacada Junior High School. Prior to coming to Estacada, Kottler had taught at various alternative schools around the Portland area, helping kids earn their GED diplomas. When he and McClara began their study sessions, they would meet once or twice a week for an hour.

'It's just hard for me to understand what the textbooks were trying to get across, and Mark was able to show me how to open a door and understand,' McClara said.

'Once I realized it's 'this is this,' and 'that is that,' I was able to take right off with it.'

McClara finished his studies last month, after more than four years of work, and will be walking at Mt. Hood Community College with the rest of the spring 2011 graduates June 10.

'English was the hardest part for me,' McClara said, who worked on math, science and history with other tutors at Mt. Hood Community College. 'It was fun and exciting, and I looked forward to sitting down and talking with Marc, getting into the schoolwork.'

McClara, who is currently working part-time for a landscaper, has been told that once the summer season picks up, he will be able to secure a position with Les Schwab.

'He's inspired me - he's inspired a lot of people with his hard work,' Kottler said. 'He really did it himself. He was so eager to learn, and he overcame so much; he made his mind up that he was going to do it, and he didn't quit.'