Volunteers dedicate time and talent to ensuring the academic success of future generations. Whether it’s reading with a child who struggles with vocabulary or providing enrichment opportunities for students who excel, personalized instruction provided by caring volunteers can be an invaluable education resource.
William Spencer has a history of volunteer work. He likes to stay active in retirement and believes in giving back to the community. So Spencer applied to be part of the foster grandparent program being piloted by Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota. Now Spencer volunteers four days a week at Bailey Elementary School in Woodbury.
The Foster Grandparent Program is for volunteers ages 55+ and is part of a larger program called Minnesota Senior Corps under the umbrella of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Foster grandparent volunteers have opportunities to work with kids in schools, preschools, Head Start programs or treatment centers, basically anywhere there are young people. Travel reimbursement and a small stipend are provided for 15 or more service hours per week.
Lutheran Social Services assistant director Ron Urbanski says, “Bailey Elementary is the first school to partner with our foster grandparent program. It’s a great opportunity for schools because we provide the volunteer and the school gets to decide what the volunteer does.”
Reading specialist Amy Frandsen supports Spencer’s volunteer efforts at Bailey. With her guidance Spencer helps young readers with phonetics and pronunciation. He also meets with groups of older students for reading assessments and any necessary interventions.
Spencer also tutors Bailey fourth-graders in math. “Math is taught differently now than how I learned it in grade school,” says Spencer. “But I have enough knowledge to be helpful. And I enjoy the kids and the staff at Bailey.”
Elementary school students aren’t the only ones to benefit from volunteer efforts. Joel Bradley and Silwai Ing provide math and science tutoring every morning before the bell rings at Woodbury High School. As a 3M employee, Bradley got connected to tutoring in September 2003 through a posting of 3M’s community giving and volunteer opportunities. “I signed up. By coincidence, I ended up volunteering at the same high school I attended,” says Bradley. “I’m happy to give back to the community that made me.”
Bradley and Ing were colleagues at 3M. When Ing’s position was being eliminated and she was concerned about not having enough to do, Bradley suggested she try tutoring. Now, between the two of them, a brainy math and science type is available to students five days a week from 7 a.m. until school starts at 8:35 a.m. Bradley and Ing are both available on Wednesdays and during finals weeks.
“It’s fun to interact with students who are learning things we used to learn,” says Ing. “It’s also nice when a student realizes that what they’re struggling with isn’t so hard.”
Bradley says, “We begin by explaining why they are learning this stuff in the first place. And that it really will be useful in the real world.”
The biggest challenge for Bradley is quickly switching subject gears. “When a student needs help in both physics and chemistry, it can take a minute to get my bearings,” Bradley says. “But I like how the work keeps my mind fresh.”
Ing also enjoys the intellectual challenge. Most other volunteer opportunities don’t utilize the specialized skill set of people like Bradley and Ing. With so many highly educated people having lost their jobs in the past few years, Ing hopes other schools and organizations will consider making specialized or technical volunteer work more readily available.
For information about volunteering, visit sowashco.k12.mn.us (click on parents, then school, family, community involvement). Questions about volunteering can begin at each school or through Jessica Yannarelly, volunteer/youth coordinator, at 651.458.6630.
For more information about Senior Corps or the foster grandparent program, visit mnseniorcorps.org