He’s known as “Mr. Julian,” but the teachers at Timber Ridge School in Arlington Heights, also call Julian Schreiber, an AmeriCorps Senior RSVP volunteer, “the best part of our day.”
Two years ago, when Julian began volunteering at the school, he was asked to simply help special needs students with their reading lessons. Then he took those duties several steps further. Mr. Julian showed the class not just how to read aloud, but to read aloud with expression. He emphasized the meaning of a story and brought out their performance skills by translating literature into entertainment.
So much of what he inspires in these children is based on his philosophy that we can all live by: “Watch what you say to kids. Years later, children will remember it.”
Jody Kaminsky, a Timber Ridge teacher, agrees. “He is endlessly patient, and he sees the light in every child. He adds humor, wisdom, and kindness to our meetings.”
As part of the Northwest Suburban Special Education Association, Timber Ridge is dedicated to students with special needs and a goal of guiding them into a promising future. For a facility such as this, Julian is a perfect fit, as he creates lasting memories for these students. Years from now it’s easy to believe they’ll recall the time he read Charlotte’s Web to the class. Jody related how Julian took the lesson a step further when he talked about author, E. B. White’s writing career and read from his essays. He even persuaded the staff to read them as well.
“His genuine passion for literacy is his greatest gift to our students (and staff),” Jody said. “This summer, he stopped in the middle of a chapter of Charlotte’s Web and told the students, ‘This paragraph is what this story is all about. Mr. White is a wise man, and he captures a lot about life in this paragraph. This is the most important paragraph of the novel.'”
He teaches poetry by reading a poem-such as “The Owl and the Pussycat-on the screen. Then they read it aloud.
“When I challenge the students to read with expression,” he said, “their enthusiasm is unbounded. It’s important to get kids to read well and work with each other.”
One of his greatest gifts to all the students is his determination to say something positive about each child. They respond well to his genuine feedback, and always welcome his presence. Julian will ask about students years after he has stopped directly working with them. Julian is a retired lawyer but also draws on his community theater background for many of his lessons. He extends the literature experience into other formats such as a play, a Broadway musical or poetry slam, keeping in mind that the plays should be no more than about two or three pages long.
“He typically takes on the role of director,” Jody said. “He will announce, ‘Sophia, you are a star! Mikey be sure to emphasize the first word in that sentence. James, you will need to be the narrator. You always do an excellent job of being the narrator.'”
In addition, Julian often shares what he is currently reading and takes an active interest in what the class is reading. At the end of each year, he will often write a poem for the class.
But it’s not only performance or literary disciplines that keep the children engaged. Julian paints watercolors and shares them with the students. When he learned that the class would be reading the poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” he painted a watercolor (see picture on the right) to illustrate the poem.
When the pandemic hit, and in-person learning was curtailed, Julian turned to Zoom and, without missing a beat, still kept his students engaged and excited about reading poetry, music and even performing. He made certain they were part of a larger talent show (via Zoom), in which one boy sang “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music; another girl sang “Tomorrow” from Annie and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and another student sang “Getting to Know You” from The King and I.
“There are lots of “high-fives” at the end,” Julian said.
He also uses Zoom to join the classes for thirty minutes during the lunch period, known as “Readers, Leaders, and Eaters.” Julian reads to the students and listens to them read. He validates their efforts with genuine praise and recognition. They gave it back by sending him hand-made Valentines and Thanksgiving cards.
Julian’s advice to those considering volunteering as a reading tutor: “Go and have a good time. Everyone needs to have patience. It’s so important in their [the students’] daily lives.”
Julian is eager to begin the next big production and is looking forward to putting on a play or musical this year, either in person or virtually. Incidentally, despite his many accomplishments and the undying gratitude from the staff at Timber Ridge, Julian is modest about all that he does for the school. He emphasized that he would like to see others mentioned in the story as well. Teachers such as Jody, Ms. Dust and Ms. Snowbeck; teachers’ aides Ms. Deb and Ms. Alex, and Mr. Weems, who served as principal last year at Timber Ridge.
“Without their cooperation and enthusiasm,” he said, “it couldn’t be done. They make it work.”
Timber Ridge always has a need for volunteers, and, according to Julian, there is an unlimited amount of support and encouragement from the staff and committees. For more information on assisting the wonderful teachers at the school, or other virtual tutoring opportunities contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Janet Souter, AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP Volunteer
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