WHS teachers volunteer to help struggling students at Saturday sessions

It may have been the first day of winter break at Wilsonville High School. But looking through the library, you would never know it. Students were everywhere as another four-hour session of Support School started at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 20.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Oscar Ubaldo, with Amanda Oropeza, attends Support School Dec. 20 because he is determined to graduate.Mike Nichols, WHS student management administrative assistant, was busy checking students’ names against a list on his computer screen and cheerfully directing them to different spots around the school.

“Ms. Shook is here. It’s a great day to be here. You can work in her room,” he said as he checked in one student.

“Work hard,” he told another. “Get it done.”

Nichols coordinates the WHS Support School program, a bi-monthly, voluntary program designed to help students who are in danger of falling behind or who are struggling academically. Nichols expected about 80 students that day, although teachers had flagged or “assigned” about 200.

“I figure about 40 to 50 percent will show,” Nichols said. “A number of them complete work before Support School and don’t need to come.”

Originally known as Saturday School, the program started as a punitive response to failing grades and misbehavior. Attendance was mandatory, but little else was required.

“Kids would just come, sit and do nothing. It didn’t really change their behavior,” Nichols said.

The new model is different. Its goal, Nichols said, is not to punish but to help students. Teachers and volunteer peer tutors from National Honor Society are on hand to help.

“We wanted people to look at it differently, as something positive to support kids,” Nichols said. “It’s completely optional. All these kids who are here don’t have to be. They could be home sleeping.”

Teachers still provide Nichols with the names of students who could benefit from attending the Saturday sessions. Nichols sends email messages to those students’ parents, letting them know the students were assigned — and why.

“We make them aware that they’re missing assignments or failing one or more classes,” Nichols said.

Often, that parental notification is all it takes.

“Some kids have work they’ve completed, wadded up in the bottom of their backpacks,” he said.

Students who attend — or who fail to attend — Support School will face no consequences for that decision, although they will continue to be held accountable for their behavior and grades.

“We’re trying to make it positive,” Nichols said. “Kids come in, get work done and feel positive.”

Support School success stories abound. Nichols pointed out two students who, he said, were failing numerous classes last year. They were skipping classes and assignments. Once they started attending Support School, their grades improved and their attendance problems disappeared. One of those students was the younger sibling of three WHS dropouts.

“He’s determined to graduate,” Nichols said. “We’re finding students get work done. They start climbing the mountain,” Nichols said.

Oscar Ubaldo, a sophomore, attended Support School Dec. 20 to finish some biology and Spanish work. He had made a voluntary choice to give up his first day of winter break.

“It sucks, but it’s worth it,” he said. “I’m trying to graduate.”

Oscar has had a change of heart from last year, when he was first assigned to Support School.

“Last year when I got told to come in, I didn’t want to listen. I thought it was a waste of time,” he said. Right now, he is passing three of his classes and struggling in three others. Attending Support School helps him stay on top of his work.

“I do more of my work at home,” he said. “Right here is a more comfortable place. And I know I can get help from a teacher if I need it.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Nathalia Romero and Jafet Bautista both attended Support School at WHS Dec. 20.Junior Nathalia Romero was also at Support School, even though no teacher had assigned her.

“I’m here to boost my grade in conceptual physics ... I know I can boost my grade. I’d like to at least get a B,” she said.

Romero was struggling with personal challenges as well as academic ones. Her father passed away about a year ago, and she and her five siblings were all working together to help the family. Romero works four days a week at Bullwinkle’s and plays basketball on the school team.

“I go through rough patches,” she said. “It’s rough trying to maintain basketball, school and a job. But I’m learning.”

She was a veteran of Support School.

“Teachers take time out of their day to help us,” Romero said. “I usually come here every time.”

Teachers volunteer their time for Support School — although Dec. 20, a Friday, was a teacher workday as well as the first day of students’ winter break, most Support School sessions are on Saturdays.

“We have a phenomenal group of teachers. They care deeply about these kids. And they give of themselves continually,” Nichols said.

The classroom of Jim O’Connell, a chemistry teacher, contained about a dozen students working on various projects.

“About 90 percent of my kids show up,” O’Connell said. “Overwhelmingly, for the kids I send, they just need a little oomph.”

On this day, O’Connell expected between 16 and 20 students to show.

“It isn’t set up as a punishment,” he said. “Most of the time it’s a chance to get caught up, get help and get back on track.”

The students seemed to embrace the opportunity.

“This is the first year we have kids who weren’t assigned by any teacher,” Nichols said. “They assigned themselves. We want them — please.”

Kate Hoots can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter @CommuniKater.

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