Desert Heights Elementary School, located in Reno, NV, is a high-risk school that qualifies for Title One funding. Title One is a federally funded program with the purpose of raising academic progress and involving parents and the community. More than 60% of its students live at or below the poverty line. There are many students enduring problems such as neglect, abuse, emotional trauma and financial difficulty.
One of the most valuable assets at Desert Heights is Ed Baumgart, affectionately known as "Mr. Ed." Since Mr. Baumgart lives with an illness that prevents him from working, he volunteers at Desert Heights Elementary School. He works as a volunteer in the Learning Center, a classroom that is dedicated to addressing the individual needs of students who are having difficulty in the regular classroom or on the playground.
When assignments are too difficult for the students, Mr. Baumgart coaches the students through them. He utilizes encyclopedias, Time/Life books or other reference materials (usually obtained from garage sales) to pique their interest by illustrating concepts and giving students more perspective on the reason for the assignment. He brings information about obscure television programs pertinent to assignments or topics of interest. In addition, he answers the phone, escorts students, supervises playground activity and leads reading groups.
For some students, Mr. Baumgart is the only consistent person in their lives. On days when Mr. Baumgart stays home sick, many children feel compelled to call and check on him. He has become a best friend to many of the children, providing access to free or inexpensive materials of interest to them, bringing in books, toys, games, or just discussing subjects of interest. When children are upset, he lends a nonjudgmental ear and is usually successful in turning their interest from the focus of their concern, to a focus of academic interest.
Mr. Baumgart and his wife act as chaperones for many of the after-school functions. At the Christmas craft show, he knitted hats that he sold to school families for an affordable price. He continues to encourage students and families to come to school activities.
Mr. Baumgart receives a bus ticket and one meal a day from the school, which he often declines as his health has recently made it necessary for him to have a more restricted diet. "Mr. Ed" is an inspiration to the students as well as the teachers at Desert Heights Elementary School.