By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
At West Goshen Elementary School, helping students to achieve academic success is the number one priority. Now, the school is asking the community for a little help of its own in the form of much-needed volunteers.
Central to the volunteer push is the school’s ICare program, a volunteer program that places adults from the community with students at the school for one to two hours per week over the course of the school year.
According to Michelle Kercher, coordinator of volunteers for Goshen Community Schools, volunteers within schools these days are a hot commodity, when budget cuts and increased school accountability have stretched teachers to their limits.
“Volunteers are so important because there are a lot of children out there today that don’t have the one-on-one time that they need in the school environment,” Kercher said. “There’s a lot that goes into teaching nowadays, a lot of new rules, and it takes time. Having volunteers like those in the ICare program allows some of those children, especially the children that really need the extra attention, some of that more individualized support.”
Through the ICare program, volunteers can serve in a number of areas, from one-on-one interaction to work with small groups of students. Volunteers can also be assigned other tasks, such as clerical work for teachers and staff in the event they are uncomfortable working directly with students.
“As far as what’s involved with ICare, that’s a little varied, because you could be at a variety of grade levels, and you could be doing a variety of activities with the kids,” Kercher said. “It’s mostly reading specific, but there are opportunities to work with math and other subjects. Once they’re placed, though, the volunteers will know what they are going to be asked to do and what teachers they’ll be working with.”
As for time commitments, Kercher said she usually asks the volunteers to commit to at least an hour a session, though how that hour is spent can vary depending on the needs of the day.
“So they may be working with one teacher for a half hour, and then another teacher for the other half,” Kercher said. “Then of course they can volunteer for more time than that if they wish.”
In addition to the ICare program, Kercher noted that GCS is also in dire need of volunteers to help with its ongoing second-grade reading camps.
“We are offering our reading camps again this coming February and March, and this time we will be running them at four schools — Model, Parkside, Waterford and West Goshen elementaries — so we’ll need to fill about 160 slots of volunteers,” Kercher said. “The children they work with are the kids that just need a little extra practice with reading. They’ll read to the child and the child will read to them, and they’ll also do some reading activities like games that the teachers provide.”
With the reading camps, Kercher noted that volunteer time requirements are shorter than the ICare requirements due to the fact that the camps are only held over the course of a two-month period.
“They could commit to either Tuesdays or Thursdays from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., though some people will choose to do both days,” Kercher said of the camps, which will run from Feb. 4 through March 26 of next year. “If they can’t make the full commitment, there is also an option of being a substitute. With substitutes, we usually ask them to commit to three or four dates where they will come in to check and see if we need a sub, and if not they are free to leave.”
So who in the community would make a good volunteer?
“Well I think they need to like children, or be comfortable with children, and have a somewhat flexible schedule,” Kercher said. “But again, we want to accommodate the volunteers, so we’re flexible, but we’re usually looking for about an hour or two a week. They don’t have to have an education background. They will be working on reading and activities with the kids, but the teachers will give them guidance if they need it.”
To become a volunteer, Kercher said just about the only requirement is that each interested person pass a background check to rule out any safety concerns.
“If they’re working in small groups, it’s a limited background check,” Kercher said. “If they’re working one-on-one with a student, we’ll likely do a more detailed background check.”
For Karen Kauffman, a volunteer with the West Goshen ICare program for several years, being a volunteer is something she would recommend to anyone.
“I was a teacher for a while, I was a teacher’s aide, and I just loved school, so I just felt like I could still make a difference, even as a volunteer,” Kauffman said of her decision to become a volunteer. “It’s so important, and I think it’s really making a difference. The teachers really seem to appreciate it, so I would recommend it to anyone, especially if they’ve got some extra time on their hands.”
Connie Schrock, a science teacher at West Goshen who works with Kauffman on a regular basis, said she can’t stress enough the importance of volunteer help in today’s education environment.
“It is an extremely important service,” Schrock said. “We have so much to do these days, and the kids come in needing so much I think anymore that the more help we have, the more they learn, and the faster we can get them up to where they need to be. So it really helps, and we get a lot more done, and the kids learn a lot more. So it’s just heavenly.”
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer in any of the GCS programs is asked to contact Kercher via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 574-535-3086.