Retired educator continues making a difference at MSLC
Dick Rudzinski admits he was getting bored and antsy five years ago looking for things to occupy him in retirement. For more than three decades, Dick and his wife, Kay, had operated a small Montessori school in Wichita, Kansas, teaching children ages two and a half to 12 years old.
“It was both our profession and our passion for 35 years,” says Dick. “It was a bit difficult to completely separate myself from teaching.”
The Rudzinskis had recently moved to SE Portland to be near their daughter and granddaughter. It wasn’t long before Kay attended a community presentation about Mt. Scott Learning Center (MSLC) that sparked her interest. She knew that although Dick had retired from teaching, he missed being in a classroom. Volunteering at MSLC seemed like a perfect match.
“Even though I no longer felt capable of keeping up with the youngsters we served in our school in Kansas, I was not ready to really retire,” says Dick. “My wife was very impressed with the positive impact Mt. Scott Learning Center was making in the community, so I looked into volunteering there.”
Dick started by tutoring a small group of MSLC middle school students in math after school three days a week. MSLC Junior Academies math teacher Amanda Morris was quickly impressed.
“It didn’t take long to realize what I gem I had so I asked Dick to consider moving into the classroom with me the next academic year,” says Amanda. “He’s been working in the classroom ever since then on the average of three hours a day five days a week.”
Dick typically follows Amanda’s initial class lesson by backing her up and answering student questions and providing fresh instruction where needed. He works with sixth-graders in the Marquam group, the highest-performing students in Hawthorne, and all students in Morrison.
“Even with a small class, meeting everyone's individual needs is very difficult,” says Amanda. “But I can trust that when I leave a student with Dick to get assistance, the student will receive the highest level of support possible. His knowledge of mathematics exceeds my own and his teaching experience is quite considerable. He is the most experienced professional I have ever worked with, volunteer or not.”
In addition to developing an excellent teaching relationship, Dick and Amanda have forged a strong friendship. The two have similar outlooks on life, a similar knowledge base (both are physicists), and similar senses of humor. “We greatly appreciate each other’s company and our families have become close friends,” says Amanda.
“Since Amanda and I have similar ideas about education, she allows me quite a bit of freedom to interact with her students,” says Dick. “Much of the time I wait for someone to ask a question about work they are doing, but I also try to keep an eye out for students that may be struggling but are reluctant to ask for help. In some instances Amanda will have a small group working on an assignment separate from the rest of the students. I try to help keep them on task.”
One MSLC sixth grade student echoed the sentiments of many other students in explaining the impact Dick makes in the classroom. “Dick helps us with almost every math issue we can offer,” the student reports. “He makes the math easier by breaking it down to our level.”
Adds another student: “When I don't understand an idea in math, Dick helps me see it in a new light.”
The soft-spoken Rudzinski enjoys his part-time volunteer role and has clearly become a respected figure among students and staff. What gives him the most satisfaction in volunteering at MSLC?
“I’m just grateful to feel as though I can still contribute something to our community,” says Dick. "I’m grateful to know teachers and support staff that are so passionate about their role in these kids’ lives. And it is so rewarding to see the flash of understanding on the face of a young person that all of a sudden realizes that they understand some new concept. It makes it all worth it.”
Interested in volunteering? Volunteers are often needed in a variety of instructional and support areas at Mt. Scott Learning Center. For more information, please contact Megan Barrett, manager of curriculum and instruction, at 503-771-8880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.