School pays it forward

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Rivergrove Elementary Schools Elona Schreiner sorts through supplies her fifth-grade class brought by recently.Fifth-grade teacher Elona Schreiner said some of her students do not arrive on the first day of school with backpacks brimming with supplies.

Many River Grove Elementary School attendees show up with an empty school bag, some without a backpack at all, Schreiner said. Some arrive to class without coats in the winter. But, soon the children have plenty of pencils, paper, notebooks and outerwear.

Community groups, churches, businesses, private donors and school staff band together to buoy the school.

“When the donations come in, that frees up our resources,” Schreiner said. “That means that the teachers don’t need to buy all of those things for the students.”

Most every school needs help, said Pastor Keith Dickerson of Hope Community Church of Lake Oswego. His church gives coats, food and toys to children in need throughout the whole community.

“It just so happens that there are a lot more children at a point of need (at River Grove) than it appears at the other schools,” Dickerson said.

There were 804 students who qualified for the free and reduced lunch program in the Lake Oswego School District out of 6,790 students, almost 12 percent, in 2012-13, according to the Oregon Department of Education. The program provides a measure of student need.

River Grove had 113 students eligible for the program in 2012-13, less than the 118 students at Lakeridge Junior High and the same as the 113 students at Lakeridge High School. But, the percent of River Grove students in the program is nearly twice as high as at any other public school in Lake Oswego.

For the last few years — including this year — about 30 percent of River Grove’s students have been eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. Lakeridge Junior High had about 16 percent and Lakeridge High had 10 percent in 2012-13. River Grove is the only school in the city that qualifies for Title IA, federal aid, which at the school supports three full-time teachers and an on-call English language learner teacher.

“We recognize the big need ... and, we’re glad to help,” said Malcolm Mathes, president of the Lake Oswego Rotary Club, which gives Safeway gift cards to River Grove and the school district.

Whatever the need is, it does not affect how well River Grove looks after its students, Schreiner said.

“I love teaching here,” she said. “Since the very first day that I walked in, I knew it was a very special school. We are different than the other schools in Lake Oswego, but we have strong (community support). We all work together to make this great environment.”

River Grove Principal Dan Sterling said giving to students could “shape the world to come.”

“The kids you see at River Grove today will be the people developing the software of tomorrow, doing our taxes and building homes 20 years from now, checking pulses in the emergency room one day and teaching the next generation,” Sterling said. “A little help can go a long way to alleviate a child of burdens that they should not have to bear in early years, allowing them to focus on learning and just being a kid instead.”

Other supporters that provide volunteer time, food, dollars, coats, school supplies and other donations to River Grove include the Parent Teacher Organization, River Grove parents’ businesses, Partners Achieving Learning, the Lake Oswego Crossing Starbucks, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, United Way and individual donors.

Members of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church tuck healthy snacks into the backpacks of River Grove students, and students have responded in kind, said Carol Nordahl, treasurer of the church council. Last year, River Grove contributed to the church’s food pantry after holding a food drive, and the school has given the church clothes that were left in the lost-and-found bin.

River Grove students “have turned around and also helped the community,” Nordahl said.

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