Serving Our Schools: 3 Days at Byrd Elementary

Byrd Elementary School welcomed us with open arms.  We volunteered there for two and a half days, and by Friday we were a familiar face to most of the staff.  We are already looking forward to going back the next time we are in central Virginia.

Zoe Parrish

Zoe (Mrs. Parrish) in her classroom

On Wednesday morning,  my best friend Zoe, who is a fourth grade teacher teacher there, took us on a tour and introduced us to the staff that we would be working with.  Her mom, Kathy Albert, also works there as the guidance counselor, so we were lucky to have two points of contact within the building.

Jay and I split our time between the courtyard and the media center (library), working with Mrs. Hawk and Mrs. Stevens respectively.  Both women were enthusiastic to have help, prepared to put us to work, and appreciative of our efforts – all great qualities in a volunteer supervisor.

Jay shelving books

Jay shelving books in the media center

In the library we checked the library materials against the records in the catalog.  When the library moved to a new catalog system, many of the records got messed up and it was my job to fix the discrepancies so that the kids could actually find the books in the catalog and then find them on the shelf.  This is a huge project and I hope that Mrs. Stevens can find additional help to continue working through the inventory.  Jay also helped out with reshelving and with adding new labels to books that needed the call numbers corrected.  Jay’s mom is a librarian and he was definitely  a good fit for these tasks, taking great pride in getting the books in the right order.

jay working in the courtyard

Jay turning over one of the beds in the courtyard

Jay spent most of his time in Outdoor Learning Lab (Courtyard).  For a Title One  School with very limited resources and great need, it is truly astounding to see what a great learning environment the staff have been able to create throughout the school.  The Outdoor Learning Lab is a relatively new addition, led by the school’s resource teacher, Mrs. Hawk.  The school staff, with help from community members, have transformed a bare courtyard into a colorful dynamic habitat where the kids get to do hands on science projects and outdoor performances.  Jay moved through several projects there, putting up bird houses, assembling a potting shed, installing curtains at the outdoor stage, fixing a weathervane, applying sealant to the wooden structures, and more.

This wooden mural is a great example -- the painting was done by a community member, Mrs. Hawk's husband made a stand for it, and then we put it all together in the courtyard and painted it with sealant

On our last day, I stepped up to the challenge of working with a few of Zoe’s students to create an infographic about their Read to Feed Program.  Jay and I are both a bit afraid of kids, not really having any interaction with elementary school aged children, so I was nervous to work with the students.  However, I found that interacting with the kids was really a highlight of our visit.  The kids are eager to try new things and have so much energy for life and learning.  I was even able to work in some discussions about fractions, factors, and algebra (which I first had to remember!).

infographic about read to feed program

The Infographic that the kids and I created to describe the Read to Feed program's progress

This experience reminded me about all of the opportunities out there to work in the public schools.  Schools often focus on getting parents involved, but there are lots of community members with skills and time to contribute that could be a great asset for their neighborhood school.

Have you volunteered at a local public school?

What did you enjoy about the experience?

What type of skills could you offer?


11 responses to “Serving Our Schools: 3 Days at Byrd Elementary

  1. You make an excellent point about schools not contacting community members for volunteering. I’ve noticed that myself, though it hasn’t motivated me to get up there and volunteer! Maybe I’ll have to do so.

  2. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! What a difference the two of you made at Byrd in three days! Your skills sets meshed perfectly with the items on our long list of projects that needed attention.
    Knowing how busy our days are at Byrd, I wondered if I would be available to provide support if you needed it. I think many time people fear that volunteers could actually cause more work than they help. Sharon and Jay found out what needed to be done and got right to work. Very self-sufficient!!
    Public education is one of this countries most valuable resources. Support from volunteers can enrich and further what work is being done already. Thank you, again, for your generous contribution.

    • You are so welcome! You guys work so hard at that school, it was nice to be able to check some things off the to do list. Volunteers are not free in the sense that it takes staff time to recruit, screen, orient, train, and recognize them, which is why if you have beyond just a couple of volunteers it is really essential to have a designated volunteer coordinator.

  3. So glad to hear that Service Driven is off to a great start! I volunteered in local public schools in high school, college, and law school. It was always incredibly rewarding to work with kids and to make them feel special and “cool” because they had a grown-up friend. I’m not sure I’ve had any unique skills that have come in handy, but patience and a sense of humor are always help, esp. with young kids.

    • Great to hear from you Tiffany. I think we overlook the importance too of just being a responsible adult presence at the school. Zoe mentioned that it would be good for the kids in her class to meet another capable young woman.

  4. What a wonderful way to start your adventure. I participated in a community spelling bee at an inner city school where the adults were the participants and the kids cheered us on. It was very fun and reminded me how hard kids work at times since we had to study up. I have always thought there would be considerable red tape in volunteering at our schools. Maybe that is not true. City volunteers needed to have background checks and fingerprint cards if they worked with children so I thought that might be an issue in schools.

    • That spelling bee sounds like such a fun idea! It really depends on what you will be doing in the school, for how long, and who knows you. The general rule of thumb (as far as I understand it) is that adults can be in the school volunteering without a background check as long as they are not left alone with the kids and are always supervised by a school employee while interacting with kids.
      Before we went to the school, I asked Zoe if we needed to fill out any forms or anything, but since we were just helping for a few days and not working closely with the kids, we were just treated like visitors.

  5. Jay and Sharon – Your work in only 3 days at Byrd was tremendous! I so much appreciate all that you did to freshen up and enhance the Outdoor Learning Lab at Byrd! The students will be thrilled as the weather warms to be able to enjoy learning outside in the Learning Lab. As you can see how busy the days are for teachers, it is hard to always find the time to do those things that are equally as important – but hard to find the time to do- your help was huge! Freshening up the flower beds, hanging feeders, getting up the curtains, moving the weather station, and all of the other sprucing up that you were able to accomplish was so needed. We need more willing volunteers like yourself. What a wonderful way to spend your next year!

  6. Pingback: 26th Week in Review: 6 MONTHs!! | Service Driven

  7. Pingback: A Year on the Road: By the Numbers | Service Driven

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