May 22, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ecuador: Reading: Primary Education: Migrant Children: Naples News: Ecuador RPCV Tom Pipher 'really has a special place in his heart for migrant children'

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ecuador: Peace Corps Ecuador : The Peace Corps in Ecuador: May 22, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ecuador: Reading: Primary Education: Migrant Children: Naples News: Ecuador RPCV Tom Pipher 'really has a special place in his heart for migrant children'

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Ecuador RPCV Tom Pipher 'really has a special place in his heart for migrant children'

Ecuador RPCV Tom Pipher 'really has a special place in his heart for migrant children'

Ecuador RPCV Tom Pipher 'really has a special place in his heart for migrant children'

Always teaching

Reading specialist Tom Pipher 'really has a special place in his heart for migrant children'

By MAXINE GINSBERG, Special to The Daily News
May 22, 2005

Caption: Pipher reads a book to a first-grade class at Highlands Elementary. As the school’s resource specialist, Pipher also helps teachers find books on subjects they are teaching. Photo: Lexey Swall/Staff

His classroom is half the size of a condo closet, but in that space Tom Pipher opens up the world of reading to students at Highlands Elementary School in Immokalee.

A postage-stamp kiddie table, two cushioned resin chairs, a whiteboard on the wall and a book-filled cabinet are tangible tools of his trade. The high-tech component is the 59-year-old instructor, a man recently recognized as the National Title 1 Migrant Teacher of the Year and Florida Migrant Teacher of the Year.

The 35-year veteran educator who'll retire when the school doors close on Friday said he deeply appreciates the awards — dinners and plaques in Tampa and San Francisco in January and April — but his best payback, he says, is seeing students gain confidence as they grasp the rudiments of reading.

Starting at 7:15 each day, first-graders march into the large resource room and head for Pipher's tiny sector, where their 30-minute, one-on-one or one-on-two sessions with the school's literacy resource specialist take place.

"The secret is to assess each student's reading ability accurately," Pipher explains, "so we can build on that and get them to the reading level that meets district expectations."

The job has become more challenging as demographics have changed, he says. "We now have students from Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti, many of whom don't hear any English at home. The Guatemalan students might hear only Kanjobal, and maybe a little Spanish, so English is a confusing third language for them."

Highlands principal Linda Salazar says the situation is complicated for nearly half of the 680 students at her school.

"Many migrant families return to Collier County for the school year, but they do not have permanent housing," she says. "So their children have to attend different schools in the different areas in which they find a place to live."

Previous generations of migrants had more education, she says, and many were first-generation American citizens, whereas the population now is made up of non-English speaking immigrants with little ability to help their children with their schoolwork.

Pipher's pupils are students in the bottom-quarter of their classes, reading-wise. They view their time with him not as a negative, but as a privilege.

That's not surprising, Salazar says: "We have cultivated an environment here where it's cool to learn."

Pipher has the means to that end, partly stuffed in purple plastic tubs on the shelves of his Formica armoire. Neatly sorted by numerical levels, the slim books represent the students' best access to reading proficiency. As students master one level, they are challenged with books in the next tier.

Pipher nurtures these young minds the way his father cultivated the gladiolus plants he came to Florida to grow in 1948. The Akron, Ohio, family moved to Claremont, then to Ocoee, then to Naples in 1955.

"When I graduated Naples High in 1963 and went on to Stetson (University), I thought I wanted to be a lawyer," Pipher says. "I double-majored in American Studies and Spanish. But I wasn't so sure of my plan as I advanced, and I entered the Peace Corps when I graduated."

That gave him his first role as an educator, teaching agriculture at a technical high school in Ecuador. "We did a lot of hands-on training there," he says, "including (plant) grafting techniques and developing a nursery."

After that, Pipher says he toyed with the idea of a career in foreign service, but when a friend told him of a teaching vacancy in Immokalee, where his Spanish fluency was needed, he pursued it. Later, he took advantage of a government program called Teacher Corps to earn a master's degree in education, and began a classroom career that eventually included Immokalee's Bethune First Grade Center, and then Highlands, in 1983.

Pipher says he participated in a pilot reading program in 1992 that targeted the lowest achieving students. When the results were positive, it allowed him to embark on an education specialty that over the years has allowed him and his students to thrive.

"Children love to learn, and what we are doing is working with them at their cutting edge level," Pipher explains. "I know what they know and I can always add more as they are ready. We use real books and we incorporate a writing piece. We should never underestimate what a child can do."

Pipher likens the teaching process to scaffolding — being ready to support at one level until it's dismantled and refunctioning at a higher level. His colleagues think he's a lot more than construction hardware.

Joan Conway, who generated his state nomination for Migrant Teacher of the Year, says: "His knowledge of the needs of migrant children and the unique needs of Immokalee gave him the wisdom to make decisions based on these children and their families, not on what was expedient or politically correct.

"The Children of Immokalee were fortunate to have a man as committed as Tom Pipher to represent their needs in Collier County."

Earl Wiggins, supervisor of the Title 1 Migrant program in Collier County, says a leadership team searches each year for deserving candidates for the state awards (and winners are automatically submitted for national consideration).

"Although there are many deserving teachers in the area, Tom is especially deserving, for his many years of service and his exceptional focus," Wiggins says. "I worked with him in a summer program, and I learned he doesn't know what a clock is. He really has a special place in his heart for migrant children."

Salazar, the Highlands principal who wrote the nominating letter for her longtime staffer, describes Pipher as a man who never stops being a teacher.

"At some point, I go home and become a wife and mother," she says. "Tom never stops thinking of his students. When he comes back from his travels, there's a slide-show presentation made especially for them.

"If a student needs something, he sees that they have it. He has authored reading books we use. And he's a friend to everyone. The people he works with have no doubt about why he was chosen for state and national recognition."

Pipher says he has no doubt about the power reading has to create a bridge to a new life for future generations of migrant families.

"With the ability to read and write," he says, "these children can go on to the kinds of jobs that will provide stability and a steady income for their families. Then their children will have even better opportunities."

Pipher says he's ready to move on, to quench his thirst for global travel and indulge his passion for wildlife photography.

But he will be missed.

Gray-haired and slight of stature, Tom Pipher is far from an imposing authority figure walking down the Highlands corridors, courteously escorting a visitor through a crowd of students who've just been dismissed for the afternoon.

To the children who flock to him, taking time from their rush to freedom to politely ask for an extra reading session, he is a giant.

When this story was posted in May 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Naples News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ecuador; Reading; Primary Education; Migrant Children



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