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OregonASK director honored as White House Champion of Change


BETH UNVERZAGTBeth A. Unverzagt of Wilsonville heads to Washington, D.C., Thursday evening to be honored at the White House as a Champion of Change for Summer Opportunity.

Unverzagt, director of OregonASK in Wilsonville, is one of nine people who will be honored during a Friday morning White House ceremony as Champions of Change. She leads the statewide program working with 65 public and private partners to support after-school and summer activities for students across the state. She also coordinates OregonASK’s Summer Learning, Summer Library and the Summer Lunch program, which has 30 sites in the state and focuses on children who need help with reading.

The program is geared toward one purpose: to stop the "learning loss" among children when school is out.

At first, the 60-year-old educator who has directed OregonASK for 10 years, says she thought someone was playing a joke on her when she received a call that the White House was presenting her as a Champion for Change. Someone — she doesn’t know who — nominated Unverzagt for the honor.

Unverzagt was driving home to Wilsonville from Salem Feb. 18 when a woman from the White House called and told her about the honor. “I thought they were pulling my leg,” Unverzagt says.

Friday’s ceremony is at 10:30 a.m. Eastern (7:30 a.m. Pacific), and will be streamed online at www.whitehouse.gov/live. A Twitter conversation is also planned with the tag #WHChamps.

Trip of a lifetime

The Champions of Change for Summer Opportunity honors people who have led or invested in programs that promote summer learning, meals, job opportunities and violence prevention. It also focuses a spotlight on people doing “extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities,” according to the White House press office.

The President’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force has made supporting summer learning and employment opportunities a top priority to ensure that young people can read at grade level by third grade and successfully enter the work force.

In addition to Unverzagt, the program will honor Chekemma J. Fulmore-Townsend of Philadelphia, Bill Hanawalt of Tacoma, Alec Lee of San Francisco, Victor Francisco Lopez of Albuquerque, Laura Huerta Migus of Arlington, Va., Riya Rahman of Waco, Texas, Lauren Reilly of New York City and Olis Simmons of Oakland.

Serena Stoudamire Wesley, Gov. Kate Brown’s education office director of equity and community engagement, is traveling with Unverzagt to Washington, D.C. Stoudemire works closely with Unverzagt and OregonASK on statewide programs.

Unverzagt plans to turn around and head back to Oregon Saturday, mostly because she’s leaving again March 2 for “a trip of a lifetime” to India.

Filling learning gaps

Unverzagt says the honor recognizes the important work that OregonASK does for after-school and summer programs across the state. “It’s a great opportunity to highlight the collaborative work that’s being done here,” she says.

Much of the group’s effort is focused on helping children from elementary school through high school to continue learning even when school is out. Without summer programs, Unverzagt says, students often lose months of learning — years when tallied during a student’s lifetime.

One bright spot, she says, is Oregon’s House Bill 4050, which creates a policy advisory committee to work on students’ summer learning opportunities. If approved, the committee would go a long way to filling in “learning gaps,” and start serious discussions among educators and lawmakers about boosting the state’s education system, Unverzagt says.

“If you could even stop the learning loss, it would be huge,” she says.