Enrolling as school volunteers

Carroll County

September 30, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

John Davis peers over the shoulders of the kindergartners as he walks around a desk in Jan Bubnash's class at Carrolltowne Elementary in Sykesville.

As a classroom volunteer, he is making sure each child is writing his or her name in the upper-right-hand corner of the day's math assignment.

Davis, 78, of Sykesville - known as "Pop" by everyone at the school - has been helping at Carrolltowne nearly every school day for the past 12 years. In addition to helping in the classroom, he has taken on the job of directing bus traffic every morning.

Davis is one of the 11,000 volunteers who pitched in last year to perform tasks in Carroll County's schools, from making photocopies to chaperoning field trips.

In a school system with about 29,000 students, that's about one volunteer for every three children.

"It's a good way to get involved and see what the school is all about," said Nancy Jascur, who has signed up to volunteer every Friday in Bubnash's class, where her 5-year-old daughter, Hanna, is a pupil.

Other school districts also are eagerly enlisting the help of volunteers. Baltimore County boasts in a school brochure that it had about 19,500 volunteers last year for about 109,000 students, while Anne Arundel had 14,000 unpaid helpers for its 75,000 students.

Carroll school officials are expecting their volunteer corps to grow this year because of changes in the training program and efforts to involve businesses and local colleges.

School officials said they can account more accurately for the volunteer corps because of a database system introduced two years ago that tracks volunteers and their service hours, said Jane Farver, the school system's volunteer program coordinator.

Volunteers are required to log in and out on a school office computer. Last year, volunteers logged more than 180,000 hours, but Farver said she believes additional time is not accounted for because teachers often do not record their donated hours.

Davis started volunteering at the school when his granddaughter was in prekindergarten. He wanted to keep an eye on her because she has spina bifida, uses a wheelchair and wears leg braces to help her walk. Although she now attends a Howard County high school, he keeps returning to Carrolltowne.

While Davis said helping at the school keeps him busy in retirement, school officials said the time volunteers spend with students promotes the learning experience.

"They really make it where children are able to achieve more," Bubnash said. "It's another pair of hands to help with the children ... and enables the children to progress further."

Because Carroll school officials are convinced that volunteers play a vital role, they are eager to get more people involved.

"Countless projects would not be able to be included in a student's experience without volunteers," Farver said. "Field trips would be a thing of the past."

As volunteer coordinator - a part-time position she accepted when she retired after nearly 32 years as a teacher and assistant principal in Carroll County - Farver hopes to recruit more volunteers.

Farver pointed to new partnerships with McDaniel College, Carroll Community College and Random House.

As an example, she said, Random House will allow employees to volunteer during work hours to tutor students. The bookseller's employees are expected to start the project next month at Westminster West Middle and William Winchester Elementary schools.

"Some volunteers are donating time, some are donating talent and some are donating expertise," she said. "If kids benefit, that's the bottom line."

A key component of the district's volunteer program is the required annual training, implemented two years ago to maintain school safety and to provide consistent, up-to-date information about school policies.

All volunteers must submit a registration form. Those who will be working with students unsupervised for any period of time also must attend a training session. They must complete the training by Sept. 30 of each school year.

To chaperone an overnight trip, volunteers - about 350 of them each year - must undergo a background check, Farver said.

For the first time this year, substitute teachers are being required to undergo the yearly training, which has prompted many to sign up as volunteers.

When the training was introduced two years ago, the reaction was mixed, she said. Some volunteers who had been in schools for years felt that the 30- to 45-minute sessions were unnecessary because they were familiar with the material. But others were grateful for the information.

"Situations that have occurred in our country with regard to safety and security have lessened the resistance," she said, referring primarily to Sept. 11, 2001. "They see there is a purpose."

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