The personal connection that teacher Robert Schumacher has with special education began years ago while in high school in Michigan.
“I kind of fell in love with special education ever since high school, when I had some friends with disabilities,” said Schumacher, who went on to graduate from Michigan State University with a degree in special education–learning disabilities.
The Michigan native moved to Arizona three years ago. His goal though was more than just teaching special education classes. For the 24-year-old, working as a teacher was also about changing lives.
Schumacher got a job with Gilbert Public Schools teaching at Playa del Rey Elementary.
“I had an impression that when I was becoming a teacher I was going to change lives,” said Schumacher, who teaches students in fourth through sixth grades. “The content may not have been what I knew; the curriculum may not have been something that I was familiar with, but what I did know was I was getting myself in was to change somebody’s life.”
Working with children who require specialized learning strategies at Playa del Rey has given Schumacher the opportunity to not only teach but also to learn from his students – lessons, he says, not one professor or textbook could ever teach him.
“A lot of people think that a school is a place that kids hate, but I’ve found that a lot of students love it,” said Schumacher. “The relationships you build are unbelievable. I care more for these kids than anybody will ever know.”
Schumacher became involved in the Summit Learning Platform, an online-based program with a personalized approach to teaching and learning. Summit Learning allows students to learn content at their own pace, utilizing innovative educational approaches. The students can track their progress as they work toward short and long-term goals.
The Summit Learning curriculum is based on collaborations with institutions like the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, among others.
Playa del Rey will continue to use Summit Learning with sixth-grade students for a second year during the 2018-19 school cycle.
Schumacher said that what he loves about Summit Learning is the mentoring component, along with how the platform helps build self-directed learning skills within the students.
“Summit is probably one of the most important things I’ve ever been involved in as an educator,” said Playa del Rey Principal Darrin Praska. “This is my 25th year as an educator, and I’ve never been a part of something that is so personalized and so individualized for whatever the learning style is of the student.”
Praska said through the Summit Learning Platform, his team of teachers has been able to get to know the students better through mentoring, and by providing extended learning and support in how students learn.
After Schumacher showed interest in taking a lead roll in the implementation of the platform for sixth-grade students at Playa del Rey, Praska tapped him to serve as a liaison between the training module and the school site.
“His relationships with kids are top-notch,” said Praska. “From the very first year he came he prioritized getting to know children, knowing what their needs are and adjusting their social, emotional and academic support to meet those needs.”
This summer, Schumacher was selected as a Summit Learning Fellow to work as a facilitator in a statewide, five-day summer regional training in Phoenix. The Summit Learning Fellows program trains selected educators to receive targeted professional development, which then enables them to provide support in their own schools to team members, and in other schools within their school district or a region.
For Schumacher, the junction where teaching, the desire to change lives and the Summit Learning Platform join seems to be an ideal scenario for an educator who is in his third year of teaching. What comes out of this mix is what he is most passionate about.
“It really kind of fits my mission and vision,” said Schumacher. “It tells me that if you don’t know a student on a personal level, you’ll never get to know them on an educational level. There’s so much more than looking at books, websites and resources. It’s all about knowing that student. That alone is why I’m a teacher.”