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Why our schools need community volunteers

Thursday, January 5, 2017 12:25
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(Before It's News)

by Emily Morris

Dr. Carver welcomes students, teachers, staff and especially much-needed volunteers at George Washington Carver Academic Elementary School in Bayview Hunters Point.

This holiday season, many are wondering what we can possibly do to get involved and create real change in our communities. One way to make a difference at the local level is to become a volunteer in public schools, especially schools that are under-resourced and can really use the support.

Anyone who has stepped inside a school knows teachers and principals simply cannot do it alone. Much like it takes a group of architects, developers, construction workers and other contractors working together to build a home, it takes a whole team of caring adults to educate a child.

One way to make a difference at the local level is to become a volunteer in public schools, especially schools that are under-resourced and can really use the support.

The San Francisco Education Fund trains and places volunteers in classrooms across the San Francisco Unified School District, including Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, where second-grade teacher Crystal Farshchi works. Last school year Ms. Farshchi had four volunteers helping out in her classroom, and she said she would have taken 10 more.

“It takes more than one teacher to do this job,” she said. “Our students experience high trauma in the neighborhood. The kids that live in the neighborhood, they live in low-income housing, they hear gunshots … So they come to school, and this is their safe space, but it’s also where their trauma comes out and their social-emotional [challenges] come out.”

Volunteers help teachers like Ms. Farshchi by tutoring individual students or by serving as whole-classroom volunteers. One such volunteer is Cassandra Leasure, who volunteered twice a week in Ms. Farshchi’s classroom last year and wants to become a teacher herself.

“It was an amazing experience,” Cassandra said. “I can’t even express the rewarding feeling that you get from building a relationship with the students and seeing them grow and improve and how much they come to depend on the volunteers. They get attached to you, and you can definitely see a difference with their academic and social skills and behavioral lives. They just seem to be really receptive.”

When some teachers are tasked with instructing a class of as many as 30 students, support from volunteers like Cassandra can help increase their capacity. “It was great,” Ms. Farshchi said. “I would attend to social-emotional [needs] and she could keep the class doing something and vice versa. If it’s just me, I have to stop everything I’m doing and work on the social-emotional, and that hurts the students because they don’t get to go forward.”

“It was an amazing experience,” Cassandra said. “I can’t even express the rewarding feeling that you get from building a relationship with the students and seeing them grow and improve. You can definitely see a difference with their academic and social skills and behavioral lives. They just seem to be really receptive.”

Last year the Education Fund trained more than 500 volunteers who worked with students on a weekly basis throughout the city’s public schools, including 19 volunteers at Carver Elementary. Volunteers soon become part of the fabric of the school, according to Principal Emmanuel Stewart.

“Volunteers have a sense of pride, accomplishment and ownership that they’re helping within the school community,” Principal Stewart said. “They care about the families, the students and particularly a community that is changing.”

Principal Stewart cites gentrification and violence as examples of the way Bayview Hunters Point has been altered over the years. That kind of change can lead to instability for a school and its children, but volunteers provide a consistent presence for students and their teachers.

For Ms. Farshchi, having volunteers around to assist students made a big difference. In one instance, one of Ms. Farshchi’s volunteers helped reach a student who struggled with a speech impediment. “She had a lot of stuff going on at home, and she completely opened up to him,” Ms. Farshchi said. “It’s not every time I’m able to sit down and listen to a student, but he could do that. It was very touching.”

“Volunteers have a sense of pride, accomplishment and ownership that they’re helping within the school community,” Principal Stewart said. “They care about the families, the students and particularly a community that is changing.”

While all volunteers are invaluable for teachers and their students, volunteers who come from the community, including volunteers of color who live in the neighborhoods where the schools are located, are especially crucial.

“It would be so amazing to have people in the Bayview community in our schools, because it’s really important for students to see people who look like them,” Ms. Farshchi said. “It’s whatever you can do, so please come into our schools. It’s super important, especially with the movements that are going on right now like Black Lives Matter, to start at the ground level.”

“It would be so amazing to have people in the Bayview community in our schools, because it’s really important for students to see people who look like them,” Ms. Farshchi said.

When members of the community regularly enter the school and tell their friends and coworkers what they see, they can also help change “the dominant narrative” of the Bayview as a tough community, Principal Stewart said.

“When you come inside here, what you find are caring, well-educated adults with high expectations for students,” Principal Stewart said. “And what you find from students is they respond when the expectations are so high for them.”

Volunteers can dedicate their time at Carver or at any of the public schools throughout San Francisco through the Education Fund’s programs. Volunteers have the opportunity to tutor students in any subject, support a teacher’s entire classroom or mentor students.

“The big thing we want to accomplish is that we want to help our students have a sense of pride in their education and a safe environment that ensures our students will want to continue their education,” Principal Stewart said. By dedicating time to help students, teachers and schools accomplish this, volunteers “have a chance to be part of a bigger picture,” he said.

Visit www.sfedfund.org/volunteer to sign up for a volunteer information session.

Emily Morris can be reached at emorris@sfedfund.org.



Source: http://sfbayview.com/2017/01/why-our-schools-need-community-volunteers/

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