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.
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.
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 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.
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!).
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.