Emily Shane was struck by a car and killed while walking down Pacific Coast Highway in April of last year. Her family has created a foundation in her memory to help students with learninng disabilities. (photo by Ellen Shane)

DISTRICTWIDE — A nonprofit organization established in memory of a former Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District student aims at increasing access to specialized tutors for students with learning challenges.

Ellen Shane, whose daughter died in a car crash last April, presented the concept to the Board of Education at its meeting Thursday.

Ellen Shane’s daughter Emily Shane, a former eighth grader in Malibu, was struck by a car and killed while walking down the 29000 block of the Pacific Coast Highway.

The man charged with hitting her, Sina Khankhanian, will go to trial on a murder charge later this month.

Since her daughter’s death, Ellen and her husband Michel Shane sought ways to honor their daughter’s memory by giving back to others.

The first manifestation of that impulse appeared the night they learned Emily had died.

The Shanes created a Web site dedicated to their daughter, a “pass it forward” campaign with a goal of getting 100 million people to document their good deeds on the Emily Shane Foundation Web site, www.emilyshane.org.

Thursday, Ellen Shane revealed the second component — a foundation dedicated to providing students with learning challenges one-on-one academic support, totally free.

The tutoring was an extension of the Web site in that the goal was to get people to give of themselves to help others.

“She did not have a mean bone in her body,” Ellen Shane said of her daughter. “We wanted to honor her in that way, to have other people do things in her memory. We were trying to think up what it could be.”

When Emily was in second grade, her parents and teachers realized that she was having difficulty processing the information she was learning in school.

The problem wasn’t pronounced, but it became more of an obstacle as Emily tackled advanced coursework, like math problems with multiple steps.

“There was a disconnect between her knowledge and ability and how she was performing,” Ellen Shane said.

Emily was eventually put on a 504 plan, which gave her more time on tests and larger fonts on written portions.

“Even with those accommodations, it wasn’t enough as she got older and the coursework got more challenging. We used to have to hire tutors,” Ellen Shane said. “But you can’t just get a student, because she needed someone who could help her with her processing problems. It made me wonder, how many kids are like her?”

The Shanes realized that some students with learning challenges might struggle in school because their parents didn’t have the time to research options like 504 plans that could give them more tools to succeed, or may not be able to afford tutoring to help their kids through rough patches in their academics.

“They struggle, and if they don’t succeed, they start to feel badly about themselves,” Ellen Shane said.

The Shanes envisioned a foundation dedicated to the memory of their daughter that helped provide tutoring to middle school children of families that couldn’t afford it.

Tutoring does come at some cost: One good deed performed by the student for another person, logged on the Web site.

At Thursday’s meeting, the Board of Education gave its unanimous blessing, which gave permission for a pilot program to move forward.

The pilot program will begin at Malibu High School and John Adams Middle School, and will take place at the Boys & Girls clubs that use those campus facilities.

Tutors might be local professionals, or students at Santa Monica College or Pepperdine University with fields of study that qualify them to help kids with specific needs, Ellen Shane said.

“We need to try to match to see what their specialty is, or what their experience has been. Then we have to try and match it with the kids presented to us, and what they’re having trouble with,” she said.

Early support for struggling children is critical, particularly in an educational climate that may not assess children appropriately for learning disabilities, said Judy McKinley, president of the Los Angeles affiliate of the Learning Disabilities Assn.

As a result, kids are not getting the intensive instruction that they need in reading and other subjects.

“As they get older, they get further and further behind,” McKinley said. “They may be able to get through, but once you get to middle school and stuff gets harder, they’re totally failing.”

Perhaps more important than tutors would be ensuring that staff get the training that they need to help kids with either disabilities or challenges, she said.

The program is still in its nascent stages, and needs tutors and funding to get the ball rolling.

“Once the program’s really off the ground, when I can see it’s making a difference for them, it will be very fulfilling for me,” Ellen Shane said. “If I can help a kid relieve some of that frustration, anxiety and worry, it would help me.”

Those interested can donate to the Emily Shane Foundation by sending checks to: The Emily Shane Foundation, c/o Ellen Shane, PO Box 6762, Malibu, Calif., 90264, or donating online at emilyshane.org.


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