Clara Theine taught for 33 years in the Mequon School District and upon retiring in 1998, she didn’t move to Florida, or fulfill numerous desires for travel. Instead, she did as she always did, and devotes each day to helping students with math as a volunteer math aid at St. Boniface Parish School in Germantown.
Theine, 77, graduated from Alverno College in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in education and earned a master of science in education at Marquette University.
After graduating from Alverno, she said it was always her plan to teach for a third of a century in public education, where she hoped she could be a good influence by incorporating her Christian values into her teaching.
“Then I planned to return to the school where my own education began and volunteer my time using the experience I had gained during my career,” she said.
Theine, who graduated from St. Boniface in 1957, remembers walking to school or church each day, rain or shine, as she lived on a farm in the “shadow” of the parish.
“This is one of the perks I appreciate about this opportunity. I don’t even have to drive my car to do my thing,” she said
According to Diana Erlandson, principal at St. Boniface, Theine, who is affectionately called “Mrs. T,” is an “angel on earth.” Her volunteer efforts fill in the gaps in terms of student services.
“We are a small school, which means a very tight operating budget. Support staff is very limited. Teachers are left to provide the extra support some of our students need. Our teachers do a fabulous job, but their time is limited as they have to share their time with all of their students,” Erlandson said. “Mrs. T comes to school daily to work with students in the area of math. She goes above and beyond to help students with the math skills they are struggling with or to teach them a concept they missed along the way. She works hard to make learning fun. She creates math games from scratch at home. She probably has made 100s of them over the years.”
Theine has worked with St. Boniface students from kindergarten through eighth grade, but primarily focuses on grades 2-5 now.
“For many of them, I use established game formats, such as Bingo, tic-tac-toe, trail games going from start to finish or card games. Then I add a mathematical touch,” Theine said. “I like to use playing cards or dice to generate numbers. The built-in element of chance keeps the activities suspenseful and exciting. Because of the (number) of games and activities that I have developed over the years, I have learned that I had better write up a thorough description of each one, or someday I will look at some materials and ask, ‘How do I use these?’”
Each of Theine’s activities provide repetitive practice without becoming boring. She also creates the activities to provide opportunities for fair and honest play, to develop strategic thinking, to make choices and to accept the outcomes of their choices, as well as using the materials respectfully.
Erlandson said Theine created a word game/challenge called “Points for Letters.” It was a game to challenge students and staff to find four letter words beginning with a specific letter that match provided point totals.
“While the game is fun and educational, Mrs. T uses it to teach service and the importance of helping others. Each month of the school year, a new challenge is given. Students are encouraged, but not required, to complete it and turn it in. Mrs. T checks the tests for accuracy and totals the points. Students earn money for each point,” Erlandson said. “At the end of the year, she hosts a gathering of all students and staff that participated. She presents students and staff with the money they have earned. She provides the money.”
Rather than having students keep the money, they donate what they earned to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. During the gathering, Theine calls each student individually and hands them an envelope with the money they earned. The student then walks to a representative from St. Vincent de Paul and hands them the envelope as a donation.
In addition to math tutoring and games, Theine also gets the mail for the parish and school, and delivers it to the correct recipients.
Theine also coordinates the “Box Tops for Education” for the school. She counts, cuts, and turns in all box tops and earns the school on average $2,000-$2,500 a year.
“She also hosts a ‘Math Fair’ each spring for the entire school. She has made dozens of math ‘carnival’ games,” said Erlandson. “The students earn prizes (which she provides). It is a tradition at St. Boniface. She donates all the prizes for our annual Grandparents Day bingo games.”
In 2018, Theine received the Community Service Alumna Award from Alverno College for her volunteer work.
Theine enjoys what she does and is grateful she is able to help her alma mater.
“I appreciate having the chance to be creative, which I consider a God-given talent, for the benefit of others,” she said. “I (love) seeing the students get excited about learning, as they ask, ‘Can we do such-and-such game’ again?”