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SVP International

Partner of the Month: Noelle Studer-Spevak

Posted by Sagarika Ravishankar

IMG_4723Noelle joined our Partnership two years ago, and has been working with the SVP and Latino Network team to develop a business plan to scale Juntos Aprendemos, an early education program with a 17-year history of improving kindergarten readiness skills for Latino children and supporting parents as their children’s first teachers.

Working closely with Sadie Feibel, the Early Childhood Education Director of Juntos Aprendemos, Noelle added tremendous value in helping the team developLatino Network’s business plan to scale their Juntos Aprendemos Program. One of Noelle’s significant contributions was documenting and packaging the Juntos Aprendemos’ Program in order for Latino Network to replicate it at other schools. Noelle was an invaluable thoughtful contributor, and her passion and commitment was contagious.

Noelle recently received the Oregon PTA Advocate for Children Award. Among hundreds of volunteers, Noelle rose to the top for her dedication and commitment to her school community. We are pleased that her efforts were recognized, and offer sincere congratulations.

Noelle earned master’s degrees in Public Administration & Urban Horticulture from the University of Washington in 2003, and has since led environmental sustainability efforts at Portland Community College and Portland State University. Before that, she worked in urban forestry for the City of Seattle and served as an agroforestry extension agent with the U.S. Peace Corps in West Africa. She currently serves as the PTA President at Rigler K-5 School (south of PDX Airport), and is the co-founder of the Central Northeast PDX Childhood Reading Initiative, Lee Más.

Q: What drove you to join SVP?

Ideally, all children should be supported in discovering & bringing their gifts into the world, but, as Robert Putman describes in Our Kids, children’s potential is often limited by where they’re born. My background is in science, so it seemed like quite a leap to dig into the seemingly overwhelming topic of “school equity.”  In 2014, I audited a course at Harvard on strategies & policies to close the racial opportunity gap, which covered everything from prenatal care through high school. When I returned to Portland, my daughter was entering kindergarten and I was looking for a way to engage.  Craig Kelly invited me to an SVP event and the rest is history.  Juntos Aprendemos started at our neighborhood school, so it seemed like a natural fit to join the scaling team.

Q: What has been most rewarding for you thus far?

I’ve really enjoyed learning alongside so many smart & committed team members from different backgrounds and generations.  During the Juntos scaling project, it was fun to discover how our skills & perspectives complemented one another as we worked behind the scenes to support Latino families. Setting up great teams is part of SVP’s magic.

Q: Have you had any “aha” moments?

I was previously on the Board of a nonprofit that provided garden education in Oregon correctional facilities. We found that many of our program participants had reading challenges that were never addressed. That’s when I decided to focus my energy on literacy strategies for young children experiencing poverty: connecting families with books, sharing information about how to read with young children, and setting up opportunities for adults to coach first and second graders in reading.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

I’m stepping down from my PTA president job to focus on my family, learn guitar, and wrap up the launch of some fun participatory gardening projects; we started an outdoor learning program at Rigler this year teaching science in the garden and natural area. We’re hosting a workshop series to create small native meadow pollinator patches around northeast Portland. And, I’m co-hosting a “laundry-to-landscape” workshop with Greywater Action in September.  I also spend a lot of time dreaming with my partner about our small residential development company, OrangeSplot.net.

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