PONCA, NEBRASKA

PONCA, Neb. (AP) — Two tables and a whiteboard in the Ponca Public School library are all that Randy Lukken needs — most days.

Sometimes there aren't enough chairs around those tables for the students who need Lukken to share his math expertise.

"The days I'm there, I poke my head in each of the study halls and announce I'm there to help with math," said Lukken, one of two retirees who volunteer to tutor Ponca students in math. "There's times when I've had 20 kids in there with me."

The Sioux City Journal reports that Lukken sets up three times a week in a corner of the school's library. Myra Woggon, a retired teacher, helps fifth and sixth-grade math teacher Stacey Carnell. It's a luxury any school district would enjoy, and many do seek volunteer tutors from their communities.

"It's just the satisfaction of seeing the light bulb come on and the wheels spin a little faster that they're picking it up," Lukken said. "I clearly enjoy working with the kids, but I couldn't have been a full-time teacher."

A 1970 Ponca graduate, Lukken has bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering. He retired from Northern Natural Gas in June 2011 and moved back to Ponca.

"When I retired, I was only 59 years old and needed something to do," he said.

With his math background, he asked school officials about helping students with math. His offer was readily accepted, and now he helps junior high and high school students with general math to pre-calculus.

On a recent morning, students filed in and pulled out their textbooks, pencils, calculators and worksheets. They filled nearly both of his tables.

"Mr. Lukken, do you know how to do functions?" one of them asked.

She sat down at a table as Lukken studied the problem and explained it. Satisfied, the student pulled out an algebra 2 textbook and returned to her seat to finish her work.

Lukken takes a lot of questions, gives a lot of help in just one class period. Some students appear to need the help. Others quietly do their work, never raising their hands.

"A lot of kids come in here and work and never ask me a question," Lukken said. "I had a girl who came in every day during sixth period to do her work. She never asked me a question. I think she liked knowing that I was here if she did have one."

He almost always can help. He draws the line at doing geometry proofs. But he's become adept at solving story problems, which he as a student had never liked. If he's unsure, he reads through the textbooks to refresh his memory on topics he maybe hasn't tackled in decades.

"A lot of kids think I remember this stuff," he said with a laugh.

Lukken has since obtained a substitute teaching certificate and subs in Ponca and nearby Allen. He also drives a school bus and helps farmers.

"All the others (jobs) I get paid for, but I like this one the best," Lukken said.

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