Teacher: 'We have to get out and nurture'

You'd think that in the wake of a major earthquake, you'd get out of doing your homework - that is if you're a student. But not 28 Spanish-speaking third and fourth graders at Valerio Street Elementary School in Van Nuys, Calif.

Two days after a temblor rattled the area Jan. 17, their teacher, Dave McClay, tracked them down and gave them homework assignments and one-on-one instruction. He did so by traveling the 25-mile distance from his home in Santa Clarita to the area of the school district in Van Nuys, four miles from the epicenter in Northridge. Because of damaged freeways as a result of the earthquake, that 25-mile trip took 21/2 hours each way. And that didn't include the time it took to find the youngsters, many of whom were staying with their families in tent cities, public parks and emergency shelters due to damage to their homes.Brother McClay, high priests group leader in the Saugus 3rd Ward, Santa Clarita California Stake, told the Church News he decided to find the students after hearing it was not known how long local schools would be closed due to damage. "On Wednesday, Jan. 19, I said, `My students aren't going to go without learning all this time.' I took books, tracked kids down in camps or wherever I could find them and gave them homework - math, social studies and science."

In speaking of why he would go so far out of his way to see to the needs of his students, Brother McClay, who served in the Texas South Spanish Mission from 1968-70, said: "During my mission, we learned the value of teaching good lessons, but more important, we learned the value of nurturing. There's more to teaching good lessons. We have to get out and nurture as well."

The teacher added that another major reason he did this was to provide some normalcy for the children. "They needed to know that life still goes on. During the 1991 [Los AngelesT riots, many kids felt isolated. I was concerned about my students feeling isolated after the earthquake. I wanted them to know the world is still here. I wanted them to know they have a teacher who loves them."

But at one point while looking for the students, Brother McClay wondered if the effort was worth it. "I started out with great enthusiasm, but by the end of the day I was getting so tired. I thought, `Is this worth it? I've got rocks in my head.' "

In fact, some acquaintances of Brother McClay had told him not to waste his time, that the students wouldn't do their homework. "Conventional wisdom said kids wouldn't do homework; that they'd be too scared or would be having too much fun playing around. Conventional wisdom was wrong," he related.

"They really responded," he continued. "I followed up Thursday [Jan. 20] and was pleased with the number of kids who were doing homework. They're doing fantastic. It was very gratifying. When we start school again, we will be right up where we should be."

Brother McClay's students are used to him showing up on their doorsteps. "I'm in their homes a lot; that's my style." said Brother McClay, who has been teaching school for four years.

In fact, this is not the first time he has tracked down students during a crisis. During the 1991 riots, he was teaching school in South Central Los Angeles, the area where some of the worst rioting occurred. Then, too, he found his students and gave them homework.

"It goes back to my mission. We learned the value of souls and the value of the one-on-one."

And Brother McClay literally goes the extra mile for that one-on-one relationship.

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