Playa del Rey Elementary educator teaches to change lives
For Special Education teacher, knowing students is the key to education
Posted on 08/20/2018
Gilbert Public Schools teacher, Robert SchumacherBy Eduardo Barraza, GPS

(Gilbert, AZ) -- The personal connection that teacher Robert Schumacher has with special education began years ago while in high school, when he was a student at Lakeland High School in White Lake, Michigan.

“I kind of fell in love with special education ever since high school, when I had some friends with disabilities, and loved it,” said Schumacher, who went on to graduate from Michigan State University with a degree in Special Education–Learning Disabilities.

With a college degree and a teaching job in mind, 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 a chance to change lives.

Shortly after moving to the Valley of the Sun, Schumacher got a job with Gilbert Public Schools, working as a teacher at Playa del Rey Elementary.
Robert Schumacher teaching special education students
“I had an impression that when I was becoming a teacher I was going to change lives,” said Schumacher, who teaches students in fourth, fifth, and 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 that what I was getting myself into was to change someone'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, like how students can create a special connection with their teacher.

“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, especially those with minimal support, and it's kind of why,” said Schumacher. “The relationships you build is unbelievable. I care more for these kids than anybody will ever know.”

Teaching at Playa del Rey gave Schumacher the opportunity to get involved in the Summit Learning Platform, an online-based program with a personalized approach to teaching and learning. The platform allows students to learn content at their own pace utilizing innovative educational approaches, as well as to 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 the online platform with sixth-grade students for a second year during the 2018-19 school cycle.

"This push for a new way of education to yield better results, and for a really personalized education, allows students to go through on pace if need be, as well as a lot of students to slow down for more differentiation of support and scaffolds,” said Schumacher about Summit Learning

Schumacher says that what he loves about Summit is its mentoring component, and how it builds self-directed learning within the students while following high cognitively skilled tasks, and a deep range of depth of knowledge, questions and analyzing data from 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 has the student.”

Praska said that 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 role 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.
Robert Schumacher quote
“His relationships with kiddos 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 those needs to social, emotional and academic support.”

This summer, Schumacher was selected as a Summit Learning Fellow to facilitate sessions in a statewide, five-day Summer Regional Training in Phoenix. The Summit Learning Fellows program trains selected educators to receive targeted professional development. This then enables them to provide support at their own schools to team members, and at other schools within their school district or a region.

For Schumacher, his job as a teacher, his desire to impact students’ lives and his involvement in the Summit platform seems to be a fulfilling scenario for an educator who is just starting his third year of teaching. What it results 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.”
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