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Originally simply a school for deaf children, Tucker Maxon on Holgate expands its mandate

RITA A. LEONARD - Tucker Maxons gym is an all-purpose facility - it has a climbing wall, accommodates basketball, and is used to teach bike riding and Legos. When its not in use by the student body - its for rent. Portland's Tucker Maxon School at 2860 S.E. Holgate Boulevard is a premier private school that was initially created to educate deaf children, from birth to grade five. A quality education was always the goal, and the school was and is noted for it. But the school has evolved with the community, and now serves a broader range of students.

Established by Paul Boley and Max Tucker in 1947, the nonprofit school is nationally recognized, and maintains a loyal support group. But today, Executive Director Glen Gilbert reports that "hearing children" now make up about 75% of the student body.

In addition to student tuition, the school receives funds through an annual auction, plus a variety of grants. A five-year strategic plan developed in 2014 included suggestions for summer camps, improved street signage and technology, and catching up on deferred maintenance. In the past four years, funds have been used for many improvements to the building and grounds, including new roofs, playground structures, and technology – all in furtherance of that plan.

"We recently installed eight new garden beds, thanks to a grant from the Portland Garden Club," reveals Gilbert. "We have many fruit trees and vegetables, and sunflowers to encourage pollinators. We're planning on putting in a greenhouse in the back garden so that students can raise food to eat, and for study the year around. The kids also raise their own chickens for the chicken yard, to learn where food comes from."

Along the S.E. 28th Avenue side of the property, passersby can view and feed the school's four Nubian goats. A science teacher at the school is also a veterinarian who teaches about animals in-depth. The school also offers classes in Physical Education, Music, and Art.

This summer, the new school sign out front advertised weekly summer camps in all for eight weeks. "Students learned about food, culture, and life in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America, among other places," remarks Gilbert. "They even did some cooking in the style of those areas."

In June, as previously reported in THE BEE, the school celebrated the installation of 128 solar panels, with funding through PGE's customer-supported Renewable Development Fund. "We're going to be generating 50% of our required electricity, and also selling some back to the grid," says Gilbert. "That project also came with curriculum that teaches about renewable energy, so our kids will become more aware about where energy comes from. A touch-screen monitoring station in the front lobby shows how our energy use fluctuates during the day. We also post the names of our sponsors in the Lobby. We just couldn't do it all without them." Another innovation at Tucker Maxon is a "tree house classroom", designed and built by Ian Weedman around a 110-year-old giant sequoia tree on the playground. "The open tree house can accommodate about two dozen people, and is a favorite place for outdoor study," smiles Gilbert. "The architect designed it with 'portholes' all around, so that shorter children can see out safely. One of our families is also providing a new wooden gazebo for the playground.

"We now have brand new Smart Boards in every classroom, and we'll soon be getting a new 3-D printer from General Electric. In Technology classes, our students are learning to create stop-motion animation projects, with video editing and added music. The gym has a huge rock-climbing wall, and during the summer, students have been learning to ride their bikes there. The Lions Club helped us install a new flag pole out in front, and the red bike racks there are courtesy of the City of Portland."

The gym is available for rental by the public for meetings, birthday parties, athletic practice, and exercise classes. It offers seating capacity for 250, with natural lighting and a small kitchen. Rental arrangements can be made by calling 503/235-6551. "We also have an AED (emergency defibrillator) available to the neighborhood, if you ring the front doorbell and ask," observes Gilbert.

"We're trying to change the image of the school as not solely being a school for the deaf," explains Gilbert, "Since these days most of our students are hearing ones. It's like an inclusion program where students focus on communication. We've worked on many ways to reduce hearing problems, including pioneer work with cochlear implants.

"Our Strategic Plan is working well. Fifty percent of our tuition comes from parents, and fifty percent from fundraisers.

"We're a real bargain as an independent private school, and most folks view us as a big family."

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