It was a chance meeting. Inna Wieland, Nevada’s English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, was presenting a program to Nevada’s senior residents on her world travels. Leland Roegner, 81, a retired math teacher and longtime high school principal, who moved to Nevada 10 years ago, was there listening.
After Wieland’s program, Roegner mentioned to her that he loved working with and helping kids, and that’s all Wieland needed to hear. “She put the hammer lock on me ever since,” he said, and he’s been coming to her classroom pretty much twice a week, except for the month he’s out of town in the winter, and working with kids for about eight years now.
“I like teenagers,” Roegner said, and when it comes to working with them, “I just have a feel for it, even at my age.” He helps kids mostly with math, but admits he’s a little bit of a grammar whiz, too.
Roegner and his wife, Mary Ann, came to Nevada to be closer to their daughter, Jean Sheets. Roegner started working with kids right away, usually kids his daughter or her kids knew who needed help. It was a continuation of something he did as a school administrator. After teaching math for awhile, he became the junior/senior high principal at Keota for 29 years, up to retirement. “Even as a principal, he said, “I tutored and helped kids.”
“Leland is the kindest person I’ve ever met,” said Wieland, who said she sees him as a grandfather to the kids she teaches, and she believes that intergenerational connection is so important for all kids to have.
As he sits and works with one of his regulars, Carlos Buenrrostro, a ninth grader, Buenrrostro is asked what he likes about working with Roegner. Roegner answers first. “He likes an old man,” he jokes. “I’m young at heart, though; when you chase kids around for 35 years, you stay young.”
Buenrrostro said he feels “smarter at math” than before Roegner helped him. “I don’t think I would be where I’m at. With his help, I’ve been able to keep my grades for algebra good for all terms.”
Buenrrostro said he likes to work on math with Roegner, but he also likes that Roegner asks him how is day is going. It’s easy to see the relationships Roegner has with all the kids as they walk in and greet him, and he talks with each of them.
Another of his regular students is Gustavo Ramirez, also a freshman. Ramirez started working with Roegner last year on algebra. “I was struggling and had trouble with word problems,” he said.
“None of them like word problems,” Roegner interjected.
Ramirez continued. “He showed me how to draw pictures and do some short cuts, and he told me to read the problems more than once.” All of that really helped, Ramirez said.
Since many of the students who come into Wieland’s classroom have Spanish as a first language, Roegner said a lot of what they need help with in math has to do with vocabulary. “Like the words ‘compounded interest,’” he said of a story problem he was helping one student with. “He didn’t understand what that was.” Once Roegner could help the student understand the meaning of what was being read, it made the problem easier to work.
Wieland said the normal group of students that Roegner works with consists of five eighth-graders, and about a dozen ninth- through 12th-graders, who are students of her ESL room. But, she isn’t against letting other students who want Roegner’s help come in. For instance, Elyse Clough, a junior, isn’t an ESL student, but she comes into Wieland’s room to get Roegner’s help with geometry and trigonometry. “She’s one of mine now,” Wieland said.
Roegner said in all the years he was in education through today, kids are pretty much the same. It’s just their environment, with so much technology, that’s different, he noted. But that is sometimes where he’s able to learn from the kids too. They’ve shown him how to use newer, fancier calculators and such. “I learn as much as they do,” he said.
The biggest change for him in tutoring is that, unlike when he was teaching and had lesson plans prepared, he never knows exactly what he’ll be asked to help with, and once in awhile, he needs to look something up. “I had to look up the formula for the lateral surface of a cylinder the other day,” he said. And he found it. Just like he’s found a place at Nevada High School with a lot of kids who need his guidance.
“I really like Inna and I like the kids. If I can help, I’m always willing to do it,” he said.
Weiland said contrary to what many believe, ESL isn’t just about language, so bringing in someone to help these kids with math is very much a positive thing to do. “ESL is everything. I want my kids to be successful in all areas. We need more people like Leland; he is my hero.”