Spring Garden Elementary runs well with helping hands NORTH--Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

December 16, 1992|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,Contributing Writer

At Spring Garden Elementary School, there's a crowd of fifth-graders who volunteer to work before and after school.

Some teach gym skills. Others lend a friendly ear to a learning reader. Several sell school supplies from a tiny "store." Some ready the art and music rooms in the morning. Afternoons, they put musical recordings away and wash brushes. A few help kindergartners find the afternoon bus.

"It's kids helping kids," said school principal Larry Bair. "Their help is just invaluable to us."

Time for helping is found in those minutes usually lost between bus transport and class. That's about 20 minutes in the morning, another 20 in the afternoon.

"Without them, we wouldn't be ready in the morning," said physical education teacher Craig Walker, pointing to eight boys and girls struggling to move gigantic floor mats into a closet. On their own, they devised small teams to move the mats. Within minutes, it was done. They had fun, too.

Being allowed to help is a reward, an honor. "They ask a year ahead" to help out, said Idalea Rubin, music teacher. Each teacher selects a group of helpers and defines what they will do.

Students are chosen because they are known to work attentively without supervision. "They have an incredible sense of responsibility," says art teacher Jan Van Bibber. "They're very on-task."

These students not the typical teacher's pet. For one thing, there are just too many of them. They aren't chosen for extraordinary skills, but for a sense of how to do a good job while getting along with others. Mr. Walker even selects a few fourth-graders each spring who train in the gym with his helpers to carry routines into the next year.

Helping has its rewards. "I like dealing with math," said Becky Conco, one of many charming school merchants of pencils and notebooks. In the gym, helpers Kevin Zander and Jennifer Tarlton enjoy playing after the tasks are done. "We make up games," added Justin Watts, "and play indoor soccer tag."

"With helpers, we can attempt to keep organized," said Mrs. Rubin. "Without them, it's impossible." In addition to keeping the music room on key, her helpers carry materials and assist when school programs are on stage.

"There are many reasons and ways it works," said Mrs. Van Bibber. Improving self-esteem is one. "When they are seen as helpers, it helps with their acceptance by other students," she said. "For those kids with difficulties in class, an end goal is that they'll improve grade scores in order to be a helper."

In the gym Jessica Bonito, like the other helpers, couldn't say she was particularly athletic. But she enjoys showing others how the gym equipment works.

A before-class program invites about 70 students during the week for extra time with the gym equipment. "We look for kids who are not smiling," said Mr. Walters. "We bring them in and help them feel more comfortable about being in Phys. Ed."

His helpers set up stations and "sometimes do teach, in a buddy system with a younger student," he said.

He appreciates their independence and motivation.

"They could probably run this place without me," Mr. Walters said.

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