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TUSTIN : Ex-Dropout Is a Teacher for All Ages

He was a high school dropout, a competitive weightlifter and a U.S. Marine for 20 years. Now Charles Milligan teaches English as a Second Language at a Tustin middle school.

He is also working on his Ph.D. at Claremont College, where he is preparing a dissertation about what causes youngsters to drop out of school. But he’s taking more than an academic approach to the problem, which is often related to the level of parental involvement.

Milligan, 39, has started a class for immigrant parents to teach them English and the workings of the school system.

“There’s been a lot of committee meetings and a lot of discussions, and Charlie just kind of took the bull by the horns and said, ‘I’m going to do this with my students and my parents,’ ” said Columbus Tustin Middle School Principal Bob Boies. “It’s very refreshing.”

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This week, the class took a field trip to the Tustin Unified School District Board of Education meeting to see how the system works and learn where to express their concerns.

Milligan said he was inspired to start the class after he called one day to check on a sick student. He wanted to tell the boy’s parents what a good student their son was, but language problems kept him from communicating with them.

Without waiting for funding, Milligan plunged ahead with the class, volunteering his time and using the same flash cards and other items he uses for his junior high school students.

“If they get funding for materials, that would be great, but I’m not looking for any pay,” he said. “I think at some point you have to put back into the system. If people don’t put back into the system, it’ll collapse.”

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Boies said the school has applied for funding from the Orange County Department of Education to offer more classes like Milligan’s, along with counseling and parenting programs.

“I’d eventually like to expand the program and pay them salaries,” Boies said.

Twelve-year old Jonathan Gomez and his parents, Martha and Miguel Gomez, agree. They say they enjoy Milligan’s easygoing manner and appreciate his love of teaching.

Education didn’t always come easily to Milligan, however. Growing up in Clarksville, Tenn., he skipped school frequently, finally dropping out at 15 because he didn’t like his teachers.

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When he tried to join the Navy, he was turned away because he didn’t have a high school diploma. Instead, he joined the Marines, where he learned that part of his troubles in school stemmed from the fact that he was dyslexic.

“I found out that I really had a problem, that I wasn’t stupid and I could learn,” Milligan said.

He said his background and youthful mistakes help him in teaching because he understands what the kids are going through, he said.

“I don’t beat them up for their mistakes. I point out their mistakes and I encourage them to do the same for me,” Milligan said. “I am fallible just like anyone else.”

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