Heidi Radtke was selected as June’s volunteer of the month in the Explorer’s new monthly column called “Helping Hand” for Northwest Tucson.
With a background in teaching, Radtke has seen first hand how education budget cuts have affected local schools, and is working to combat those cuts to ensure the proper education of Tucson’s K-12 students.
Radtke, who began as a parent volunteer at Painted Sky Elementary, saw the cuts lead to a reduction in teaching staff without a reduction in students, creating a challenge for teachers.
“As classes have gotten bigger, it’s made it harder for teachers to create time for one on one attention,” said Radtke.
In finding a solution, Radtke began speaking with members of the community, teachers, and the principal. The collaboration led to the creation of Painted Sky’s Thunderbird Resource Center, a volunteer tutoring program where community members, many with backgrounds in teaching, dedicate some of their time to teach individual lessons to students who are falling behind.
The program opened its doors in fall of 2010, and saw about 40 volunteers respond to the call, helping about 90 students.
“Our goal is to build their confidence and give students some one on one attention, and we’ve been doing that for two years now,” said Radtke. “These parents who are being trained as volunteers can also then turn around and work with their own kids. It’s very empowering for parents.”
Now, Radtke and fellow volunteers are taking the program a step further, raising funds to create a part-time tutoring position at the school, which will provide better continuity in meeting identified needs of students.
As Arizona transitions its education system from state academic standards to National Common Core, teachers have been faced with another challenge in finding funding for appropriate resources. Radtke is working to answer that call as well by creating a resource room known as the Book Nook.
The Book Nook uses Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) funding to purchase sets of grade-appropriate books, activities, and research material. Often, due to the school’s thinly stretched budget, teachers are paying for new books using their own money. This program looks to provide teachers financial relief by partnering with community members and local businesses to raise necessary funds.
In addition to the PTO, some of those to make contributions to the Thunderbird Resource Center and Book Nook include the Sun City Vistoso Foundation, Oro Valley Community Foundation, Catalina Community Services, the Wal-Mart Foundation, Home Depot, Dunn Edwards, and more.
Radtke’s drive for better education landed her a spot as a board member last year on the Amphi Foundation, a non-profit organization for the entire school district.
“I went there to ask the foundation for money for our reading program (at Painted Sky), and ended up becoming a board member,” said Radtke. “It’s a great group of people who are really passionate about education.”
This year, Radtke was named president of the foundation, and hopes to provide support for the district, which is made up of 25 Amphitheater schools. One of the key focus areas will be the 21st century classroom initiative.
“One need the district has is funding for technology,” said Radtke.
The foundation saw a significant donation from BHP Copper, which donated $300,000, allowing the district to receive smart boards in many of their classrooms.
Radtke is kept busy with another element of the foundation in the Amphitheater clothing bank, offering clothes to Amphi students and their families who are in financial need.
Susan Canty, Director of the clothing bank, said Radtke is one of a kind.
“She’s been invaluable to the foundation,” said Canty. “We’re always looking to do good better. There are those people that volunteer for the sake of volunteering, and don’t talk about it, and that’s the essence of Heidi.”
Radtke said being involved in the community is gratifying.
“Knowing that I’m helping kids is important to me,” she said. “My experience is school and education, and being out there and meeting all these people who have great gifts and are willing to volunteer is amazing. We have phenomenal teachers.”
The clothing bank, located at 3335 N. Stone Ave. is in dire need of volunteers. Donations can be made directly at the clothing bank, or at Sequels Upscale Retail, 7921 N. Oracle Road.