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New Year, New Volunteers
Linda Mah
/ Categories: Communications

New Year, New Volunteers

Hundreds of Volunteers Contribute to KPS

Every week during the school year, dozens of Kids Hope volunteers drop into El Sol Elementary School to meet up with their “lunch buddies.”

The volunteers, who are coordinated with much energy by Patti Huiskamp — the longtime Kids Hope coordinator for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church — gather their second- through fifth-grade buddies from their classrooms, help them grab lunch from the cafeteria, and then head to the library, art room, or other quiet space to practice reading, play math games, and talk about school and life.

It doesn’t take more than 45 minutes out of the volunteers’ days — about 27 hours during the school year — but for the students, those lunchtime visits may make a lifetime of difference.

In March 2015, the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child released a study that reported, “Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a s u p p o r t i v e adult.”

Having that caring adult in a child’s life can make a huge impact on a child’s ability to develop resilience — the ability to respond positively to adversity, according to the center. Those supportive relationships, and the give and take of healthy interactions, can actually affect brain wiring and help children develop skills such as the ability to plan, regulate behavior, and adapt to change.

As former Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice has been writing in this space for the past several months, Kalamazoo Public Schools relies heavily on the donations of time from hundreds of community organizations and thousands of volunteers. Each and every one of which is greatly appreciated, because that support helps ensure our children have every opportunity to thrive.

As we begin a new school year, we hope you’ll consider adding your name or your organization’s name to the list of volunteers in our schools. While we are incredibly grateful for all the community does, there always seems to be more need. Some of our principals shared the needs they see for volunteers:

Loy Norrix High School Principal Chris Aguinaga said many of the school’s volunteers are coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and their efforts to provide tutoring support makes a huge difference for the students with whom they work. Parents also have a significant impact on school life, providing support for everything from sports to band to GradBash to school plays.

Some volunteer help is quite specialized, such as at Woods Lake Elementary. There, Principal Micole Dyson said Gryphon Place has been training fifth-graders to become peer mediators. Those training sessions combine nicely with the mentoring provided by Kiwanis Club during lunch.

And, Prairie Ridge Elementary needs volunteers with special skills or interests to help bolster their alternate recess, said Principal Joletta Drake. Could you help teach a child a foreign language, get messy with arts and crafts, or play a new board game?

For more than 20 years, Woodward School for Technology and Research, one of the KPS balanced calendar schools which started the new school year in July, has had a relationship with Kalamazoo College, said Principal Frank Rocco. K-College students provide everything from tutoring to playground support, mentoring, and volunteering for school events. The help they provide Woodward is invaluable, but it’s not a one-way street.

I believe K-College students not only teach our children skills and help build that resilience we talked about earlier, but the college students learn a few things too, because our children are amazing teachers. Our students can teach you the latest joke. They can explain the newest slang. They can teach you how to enjoy coloring or the thrill of learning a new math skill or how to truly enjoy a great book.

You may be surprised at how much you have to offer a child. You may be even more surprised by how much our children give in return.

If you or your organization have an interest in learning more about volunteer opportunities in Kalamazoo Public Schools, please contact the schools with whom you are interested in working, and the staff can help you get started volunteering with KPS.

Cutline: Trenches Church volunteers share backpacks and supplies with students at Northeastern Elementary School.

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