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Tony McCasline is school districts Lay Educator of the Year

Reading is a priority not only for the Durham Elementary volunteer but also the students he tutors
by: JAIME VALDEZ, HAPPY HELPER — Tony McCasline gave up a quiet retirement to help the students in Durham Elementary learn how to read.

TIGARD - Every weekday during the school year when he's in town, Tony McCasline drives from his home near C.F. Tigard Elementary across town to Durham Elementary.

At Durham, McCasline is a RAP (Reading's A Priority) tutor for several second-graders in Marilee Davies' classroom, a project he took on six years ago after he retired from the retail furniture business.

For that work, McCasline was recently recognized by the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association as the school district's Lay Educator of the Year.

Davies, who nominated him, wrote in part, 'Having taken the RAP training program, he is a master at supporting beginning readers. He coaxes them along, encouraging them to sound out words, use picture clues and just plain memorize a large working vocabulary.

'Every child he has ever worked with has shown tremendous growth in reading skills.'

Furthermore, Davies credits McCasline with giving children a perfect example of integrity, compassion and commitment.

'He gently insists that each and every child can learn and improve their life through continuous effort, in spite of family difficulties, health issues or low self-esteem,' Davies added. 'He patiently waits for them to finish breakfast at school, take their meds, have health issues resolved and lets them shed emotional problems that make it impossible to concentrate on academics.

'Then they go to work, forming good study habits and recording daily progress toward goals. Even the children are amazed at how much they accomplish in one school year under his guidance.'

McCasline never expected to be volunteering at Durham when he retired.

'My wife Arlene told me to find something to do and suggested I volunteer in the kids' school,' McCasline said.

Their five children had gone through school at CFT, Fowler Middle School and Tigard High School, and McCasline figured he'd work at CFT. But when he went to the district office, he learned that the need for volunteers was at Durham.

'I was hoping for CFT, which has great kids and a great staff, but here I am,' McCasline said recently, as he sat in the Durham cafeteria, occasionally encouraging a tardy child to head to class. 'But now I've worked in Mrs. Davies' class for six years.

'I work with two or three kids all year long. We read and set goals, such as how many pages they're going to read. I'm not really teaching, but I listen to them read. I do it almost every day I'm in town - sometimes I'm traveling for two or three days.'

As students arrive at Durham each morning, they congregate in the cafeteria until the time comes to go to their classrooms. While helping to keep the chaos and noise to a minimum, McCasline also tries to greet incoming students.

'Sometimes these kids come from not the best circumstances,' he said. 'We greet them at the door and have some fun and get their day off to a good start.'

Once school begins, McCasline takes one child at a time out of Davies' classroom to read in the library for 20 to 30 minutes.

'I work with kids who are challenged by reading,' he said. 'They don't get opportunities to read at home - either the parents don't speak English, or they don't take the time to read with their kids. This works - I see improvement. You get challenges - one little girl couldn't read three words in a row, and now she's much better.'

McCasline sees a tremendous need for volunteers in the schools, and he personally is doing it because 'I'm giving back a little what the schools gave my kids. This is a phenomenal school.'

However, around this time of year, he feels ready for a break.

'But around the first of August, I'll say, 'When does it start again?'' he said. 'I always say yes.'

Winning the lay educator award was a total shock to McCasline, who on the day of the announcement was told by a teacher that she needed to talk to him in the teachers' lounge.

'I wondered why we couldn't do it out in the lobby,' he said. But he followed her in and learned in front of the entire staff that he had been named Lay Educator of the Year.

'Nice things after nice things keep happening,' McCasline said. 'As long as they want me, I'll be here.'

Volunteer openings have occurred at CFT in the past six years, 'but I wouldn't change,' McCasline said, adding that 'two of my kids went into education.'

But Davies got in the last word.

'When people bring up the subject of 'real-life heroes,' he is always the first person who comes to mind for me,' she wrote. 'For many years, he has traded in the lazy, retirement-type morning routine for the hub-bub of Durham Elementary School.

'In fact, he often arrives earlier than I do, encouraging students to use their good manners to open the doors for heavily laden teachers. In honor of his contributions to the education and welfare of a great number of Durham students, I sincerely recommend Tony McCasline as Volunteer of the Year.'