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Back to school: Retired teacher launches volunteer program at Pine Hill

Retired teacher Nancy Remakel gives a math lesson to a kindergarten student at Pine Hill Elementary School. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

You can take the teacher out of the classroom but — well, you know.

Retired teacher Nancy Remakel had earned some down time after 37 years at St. Paul Park and Oltman elementary schools and Woodbury and Park high schools.

Instead, she has organized a volunteer program to teach reading and math at Pine Hill Elementary School in Cottage Grove.

“I just feel like reading is so important to students,” Remakel said. “I just wanted to have a feeder school into Park High School, because that is where I spent most of my career.”

Remakel says she was particularly concerned about declining reading proficiency test scores at Park. Scores dropped in schools statewide this year because of new, more rigorous testing standards. Park’s decline outpaced the state’s decrease, however.

One of Remakel’s goals is to reduce remedial reading enrollment rates at Park. A good way to do that is through early intervention, she said. Students at Pine Hill eventually will attend Park High School.

“It’s so much more difficult at the high school and junior high school level if they don’t have the skills when they walk in the door,” she said.

Remakel started the group in November after meeting with Pine Hill Principal Stacy DeCorsey.

“She came in and we started brainstorming,” DeCorsey said. “She had a passion and we had a need. It was the perfect match. Pine Hill is lucky to have a friend like Nancy.”

Remakel promoted her project by posting fliers at churches, businesses and schools. She eventually recruited nine additional volunteers, including a senior at Park  and a retired dentist.

“Working with kids is so rewarding,” she said. “There probably is nothing that you can do to help society more. Even though we’re retired, we can still contribute to society.”

On Mondays, volunteers sign in at the Pine Hill administration office and fan out to classrooms. They work with a few students at a time while the teacher instructs the rest of the class. That group then rotates back into the class and the volunteers focus on a new group. Some volunteers work one-on-one with students who need extra help.They work on comprehension, sounding out words, and using correct inflections with punctuation. Another volunteer works with third-graders with flash cards and multiplication.

Remakel and the others have also started a writers workshop for kindergarten students, who learn to write sentences at the same time they learn their letters.

Volunteers spend two hours per week with students. They also include two other retired teachers, including Cherie Bien-Coffman of Eagan.

“I’m very proud of her,” Bien-Coffman said of Remakel. “She’s one of those people who doesn’t just say, ‘Somebody should be doing something.’ She does something.”

In an ideal world, Remakel said, they would work with educators and administrators at Pine Hill to ensure that every student would be reading at their grade level or better by the end of the year. To accomplish that, however, they need more volunteers. Interested candidates will have to submit to a background check, which costs $17.50. But Remakel said she doesn’t want that to be a deal-breaker; she said she’ll find a way to pay for it herself if necessary.

To volunteer or learn more about the program, call 651-436-3903.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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