Liberty High volunteers help younger pupils Academic, social skills enhanced SOUTHEAST--Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

December 15, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

A little boy walked slowly, head bowed, into a classroom at Piney Ridge Elementary School. Cindy McCloskey, 17, smiled softly and slid right into a conversation with him.

"I like your soccer outfit," she said. "Do you play?" As they looked for a something to do, 5-year-old Bradley Cooke remembered a favorite puzzle.

"It's a 'Beauty and the Beast' puzzle," he said, as he spread pieces across the floor and locked them together skillfully -- much faster than Cindy.

The small, shy boy turned into a font of information as the two compared movie notes and decided which were their favorite scenes and songs.

Cindy didn't know what she did to bring Bradley out of his shell.

"Yesterday, he wouldn't say a word," she said. "Now, he chatters away."

Cindy, and other Liberty High School members of the National Honor Society, volunteer their time several afternoons a week to the elementary school children.

"They love us, and they are all so cute," said senior Danielle Miner. "The kids all like to show off and show us things they already know how to do."

Danielle's friend Joey Helm, 6, found a paper design difficult to cut out.

"Watch for a minute and I'll show you," she said and patiently demonstrated.

Minutes later, she was full of compliments as Joey produced an original design.

"My first day, my kid ran me around the school," said Heather Laird, of a child who had "twice [her] energy." After three months of volunteering, she said she knows where to direct her "limited" energy.

"Do you want to play a game? read a book?" she asked her student. "It's up to you."

Books, letter tiles, games, many resources -- even Dazy the guinea pig -- are available. In the middle of a story about a guinea pig, volunteer Roman Geiser gingerly pulled Dazy from its cage.

"Let's see if he resembles any pigs in the book," he said.

Before Brian Stojak, 8, left for the day, Roman made sure he had a hat, coat and gloves. "Catch you later, buddy," he said as the younger boy waved.

"It's always nice when an older boy gives a younger one a little attention," said Brian's mother, Mary Stojak.

For 30 minutes at the end of each day, the classroom becomes a hub of activity.

"The children don't even notice how crowded the classroom gets," said Reading Resources teacher Anna Varakan as she watched industrious children sitting at tables and desks or sprawled across the floor with their tutors.

One child "helped" senior Lori Hagood draw a picture of a rainbow. That picture is on the refrigerator at Lori's home.

"These kids are so cute and full of life," she said. "They actually like reading books with us."

Pairs of older and younger students also use the gym to shoot hoops and the playground for kickball.

"Man, it's freezing out there," said a red-faced Steve Reigel, a Liberty junior, as he returned from a half-hour of exercise on the playground with two first-graders. "But, we had a good workout."

Many of the Liberty High students have volunteered with the same children since Ms. Varakan and Caren Allen, the elementary school's guidance counselor, began the volunteer program two years ago.

"One child never said anything positive, until he got to know his high school buddy," said Ms. Varakan. "Now the child walks in and says, 'Look, my friend is here.' "

The teacher keeps a log of who works with whom and what they do. The Liberty students also keep journals.

"I have 18 to 20 elementary students in the program and a waiting list of kids who could use this," said Ms. Varakan. She said she "could use a lot more volunteers."

When she pulls the children from their classrooms for a session with the volunteers, many others say, "Can I come? Is it my turn?"

Piney Ridge's faculty appreciates the high school students' efforts.

"They come here after their own classes, while their friends are hanging out together," said Ms. Varakan.

"I would probably sit home and watch TV after school," said Heather. "This is a much better use of my time."

Ms. Varakan would like to expand the program, so that the high school students could also volunteer during their study halls and possibly earn education credits. Now, the Liberty students receive service points, toward graduation honors, for the volunteer time.

"Many of us come whenever we can and work around sports and jobs," said Dave Woods, a senior who has volunteered for two years and is the program chairman.

Dave, whom Ms. Varakan called the "catalyst" for the program, tries to recruit more volunteers at Liberty. He sets up car pools, schedules and gives gentle reminders to the few no-shows.

"The children were so excited when I told them their friend Dave came back this year," said Ms. Varakan.

Dave said he gets "a really good feeling" knowing he has helped.

He can't account for his popularity with the younger set, though. "Maybe it's the big high school guy image," he said.

"No way," said Lori, with a laugh. "It's because he's the big softy."

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