Local teacher creates nonprofit to help families in need

Ryan Schwikhart, Oklahoma City teacher and Academic Alliance Institute founder (Garett Fisbeck)

Ryan Schwikhart, Oklahoma City teacher and Academic Alliance Institute founder (Garett Fisbeck)

A line from a recent email resonated with educator Ryan Schweikhart, who founded Academic Alliance Institute in late 2016. A parent of a struggling 10th-grade student wrote, “I can’t think of anything else to do.”

It described what the south Oklahoma City elementary teacher hears from his students’ parents, who struggle in their own ways to aid their children with reading assignments or science projects. Some didn’t finish high school, others don’t speak English as their primary language and one is illiterate. These families still strongly desire for their kids to succeed, and they yearn for academic aid.

Those comments inspired Schweikhart to create a nonprofit for families in need. It pays teachers $20 per hour to tutor students outside of school hours.

“I want to help those people who are crying for help for their children,” said Schweikhart, who has spent the last eight years teaching in local classrooms. 

Academic Alliance Institute utilizes a two-pronged approach to relieve aspects of Oklahoma’s educational crisis. What bothers Schweikhart more than students falling behind in schoolwork as fewer state dollars flow into classrooms is hearing peers contemplate leaving the profession for reasons including low salaries, long hours, large class sizes and inadequate classroom resources. Those who stay often take second jobs to pay their bills.

“Teachers in Oklahoma can’t survive on teacher pay alone,” he said. “A lot of teachers have to find supplemental income by taking second jobs that have nothing to do with education. … I want to help teachers focus solely on education and further develop their skills.”

In addition to teaching fourth-graders at Oklahoma City’s Bodine Elementary School, Schweikhart dedicates his free time to building Academic Alliance Institute, including recruiting financial supporters.

Following a contentious 2016 election cycle that featured a ballot question on boosting teacher salaries, he said, donations have been light. His goal is to raise $200,000 to kick off the service in August with the new academic year. Funding would cover teacher wages, and no family would be asked to pay for the service.

Four months after Academic Alliance Institute went live on social media, Schweikhart has replied to dozens of emails from teachers eager to become tutors and from parents seeking their services. The emails from parents, coupled with his own classroom experiences, keep Schweikhart committed to launching the service, even if he falls short of his fundraising goal.

Deep state funding cuts, the loss of teacher positions and ballooning class sizes further hurt students who struggle academically. For many, additional tutoring is needed to remain on grade-level or to close achievement gaps, but tutoring is an expensive and unrealistic option for many low-income families.

“Every child is different, every child is unique and every child, at one point, could use some one-on-one tutoring,” Schweikhart said. “With Academic Alliance Institute, every child will get that one-on-one and the learning opportunity that they deserve.”

Visit academicallianceinstitute.org.

Print headline: Second job, As the state’s public education crisis continues, a local teacher creates a nonprofit that pays educators to tutor struggling students.

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