Monday, September 30, 2013

The Power of Community Volunteers

This year, our school has at least 45 committed volunteers interested in working directly with our students. Yes, this is a pain to coordinate huge blessing!  Our goal is to strategically place all our volunteers in ways that will help increase student learning.

One thing we all know, is that students cannot learn if they do not have their physical and psychological needs met.  Sometimes it is hard for teachers to notice and nurture all of their students' needs when they have a classroom full of kids. Therefore, we pair students who could use extra academic interventions or positive attention from a caring mentor with our fabulous volunteers. I'd like to share the creative ways our school has found success with so many volunteers, so that you may find some ideas that could help your schools!

R.E.A.D (Reading with Therapy Dogs)
First, we have 7 volunteers from the R.E.A.D program. This is a program where teams of therapy dogs and their owners come and read with students one on one for 20 mins a week.  We pair each therapy dog team with students who are either below grade level in reading or who could benefit from the extra time with a supportive mentor and loving attentions of a dog.  This program is serving 21 of our students.

Career Cafe Speakers
I have partnered with our local Rotary Club for Career Cafe. I am very lucky to have many speakers come and share with students about their careers and life experiences.  Last year, 96% of my 4th and 5th grade students reported that they learned about a new career in Career Cafe.  90 out of 91 students who participated, reported that they enjoyed Career Cafe.

Lunch Book Clubs
Three of our volunteers are so dedicated that they want to come almost everyday to work with children. This was a challenge to find teachers, students, and school work for them to work with.  So, we decided to form book clubs for all students who were below grade level in reading or who were not completing their 20 mins of reading each night at home for homework.  Books clubs are on Mondays and Wednesdays and another group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Each volunteer is paired with 2 book clubs on each day and they meet for 30 mins during lunch.  These groups are small groups of 2-5 students and they take turns reading and discussing their books and spending quality time with their volunteer. Book clubs are a perfect way to use volunteers, because is it directly benefiting the students and they are not losing any instructional time.  Plus, it is a great way to make reading fun!

Rotary Club Mentors
We have an extremely supportive Rotary Club, and they have volunteers who come and serve as mentors to some of our students with needs.  A couple of our students who are grieving over the death of a recent loved one, or who do not have a strong support network at home have been partnered up with a Rotary Volunteer. These volunteers come in during lunch once a week and eat with their student in a quiet location. I have set aside a shelf of games in an old office I used to use and the volunteer and student go in there, eat together, talk, and play games.  This has been an extremely positive program!!

Weekend Backpack Program
Our Rotary Club also works very diligently to provide our school with food bags for certain students to take home for the weekend. They fill 12 bags each week with a variety of snack and dinner foods for students who may not always have meals/food at home.  We have heard very positive feedback from bother the students and their families!  Most of the food is in easy to open containers that the kids can open as they choose to over the weekend.

I hope this gives you an idea of how you can use community and parent volunteers to directly benefit students. This has definitely been a work in progress for us over the years, but we feel like it is very successful.