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LOHS students revive Kateri Park Tutoring

School program almost died before arrival of Anna Kulawiec, Callan O'Connor and Matthew Eggiman

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Anna Kulawiec, left, and Callan O'Connor spearheaded an effort to revive the Kateri Park Tutoring Program at Lake Oswego High School. Matthew Eggiman (not pictured), who has since graduated, also helped breathe new life into the program.Two Lake Oswego High School students are carrying on a tradition that almost disappeared by helping refugees and immigrants with their school work.

It all began last school year, when Anna Kulawiec joined Political Action Seminar, a course designed to give students hands-on leadership experience. Kulawiec recalls teacher Andrew Duden telling her about a great project she could start with — reviving the LOHS Kateri Park Tutoring Program. Duden said the program would die if someone didn’t take it on.

“I was like, ‘I’ll do this,’ even though I had never tutored before,” says Kulawiec, currently an LOHS senior.

The tutoring program is held at Kateri Park, a 50-unit affordable-housing development in Southeast Portland owned by Catholic Charities of Oregon (CCO). There’s an on-site Homework Club at the apartment complex that serves kindergarten- to college-age students who live at Kateri Park and at Esperanza Court, a 70-unit affordable housing apartment nearby that's also owned by CCO.

Many of the students are immigrants or refugees, most from Somalia — and the program appears to be crucial for their education.

“I do know that kids who come to Homework Club regularly also graduate from high school,” says Elisabeth Gern, resident services coordinator for CCO.

At first, Kulawiec wasn’t sure how to improve the LOHS Kateri Park Tutoring Program. The teens who founded the program in October 2007 — Haleigh Jaeger and Kelsey McCall — were long gone, so there was little leadership for the program. It had continued over the years, but participation was spotty and some of the logistics, such as arranging carpooling and scheduling tutor, were often forgotten. Sometimes, the tutors wouldn’t show up.

“I know on the Kateri Park side that was a real hassle,” Kulawiec says, “because they want tutors they can depend on who will show up every week at the right time and tutor efficiently and compassionately, and so those needs weren’t being met.”

Kulawiec and Matthew Eggiman, who has since graduated, stepped in with an urge to organize and improve services. Callan O’Connor, a junior, joined Kulawiec in leading the program this year.

Kulawiec, O’Connor and Eggiman helped the program go from having one to five students occasionally show up or sometimes miss days or weeks of tutoring to having a regular pack of 25 tutors. Everyone has an assigned day, and five tutors go to Homework Club each weekday. O’Connor and Kulawiec even held a fundraiser this spring, selling doughnuts and raising $400 for school supplies and jump ropes to give to the children they tutor.

O’Connor says she is close with her tutees, including an 8-year-old who taught her how to knit.

“We’re starting to connect more with the kids than previous years have, where it used to be really strictly tutoring. Now it’s like a mutual relationship,” she says. “I know I get just as much out of being with the kids as they get from being with me. It’s really amazing. You form these genuine bonds with them, and so it’s been very fascinating in that way.”

O’Connor will have three sophomores to support her next year, and the structure now will be to have an upperclassman partner with younger students each year to pass on knowledge and to ensure continuity of programming. (Kulawiec is heading to the University of Oregon Honors College this fall and plans to become a pediatrician.)

Gern says the Homework Club receives assistance from other volunteers from Portland State University and the neighborhood, but the group has come to count on the bright-eyed Lakers.

“They are such great young people; they really are,” Gern says. “Their commitment, their service, their generosity — they’re great. They’re wonderful. I love them. I know they will go far.”

Gern adds that the LOHS tutors are “just admirable young beings.”

“We’re really grateful for their help and everything they bring to us,” she says.

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
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