Volunteering in our public schools
My first volunteer opportunity: Madrona Elementary School (Madrona but kind of Central District too): I was sitting in a local neighborhood coffee shop (Katy’s Corner Cafe) and noticed a flyer from Madrona Elementary School asking for science fair judges. I had never been a science fair judge before and thought it sounded like a fun thing to do. I had been on a few dates with a fun and kooky woman in the area and thought I would give her a call to see if she wanted to join me by entering into the dork forest. She was a solid yes so I picked her up and we headed to the school. But first I had to decide on an outfit? What does an elementary school science fair judge wear? I asked my date… sweater vest and bow tie OR the Star Trek Science Officer uniform shirt I ordered off the back of a cereal box? She recommended the bow tie so that is what I wore. Entering into a school I’ve never been in, as a new volunteer, can be a bit intimidating especially when bringing a date so I was glad I was wearing my antiperspirant. We were chosen to judge the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade projects. The first student we interviewed about her project was a 1st grader who had co-opted her 3rd grade big sisters praying mantis display. We decided she was going to be doing that for the rest of her school career. The second group we judged did a project that revolved around the atmosphere and how clouds are made. THEY MADE A CLOUD IN THE ROOM! Next, we interviewed some students who tried to determine which soda cleaned a penny best. Coke…always Coke. Sprite…not so much. And finally, we went out with a bang with a group of 1st graders who could not stop arguing about who was going to get to explain their project to us. There was some, “Get out of my face” and “I’m talking” and “I’m telling the teacher”. My date and I decided there needed to be a new award category called, “Most like a true lab setting with P.H.D. candidates.” This group would have been awarded first place. In the end, the group who created a cloud indoors won first place because…they created a cloud indoors! I’m not worried about these students. They are a dynamic group of little scientist who keep things real.
Lafayette Elementary School (West Seattle): My younger son attends Lafayette so I showed up to volunteer for Field Day. I showed up and quickly realized my help was not needed. There were about three parents/volunteers to each activity station. I wandered around checking to see if anyone needed some relief time (this is called a ‘floater’) but my fellow volunteers seemed good to go. So then I wandered around trying to find my boy but did not see him in the sea of little’s running around so I headed home. Later, my son told me he saw me and I was asked him, “Why didn’t you wave to me?” and he shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Got it - moms are embarrassing at that age. I can roll with that.
New school year and filled out my online volunteer form, watched the 20 min. appropriate touching video and submitted my background check information. This year is exciting for volunteers because we can do all of our volunteer sign-ups online. Instead of going to each and every school to fill out a volunteer form we do it all online and it gets the ball rolling much faster! I signed up to volunteer in every school in the district so I was very curious as to which schools would contact me. The first one was: McClure Middle School (Queen Anne): Got an email from McClure that they needed people to help do some yard work/landscaping around the entrance to the school/court yard. I signed right up as yard work is my jam. There was a decent group of volunteers and SNACKS! We drank coffee and raked, pruned and picked up trash. Turns out Queen Anne has the same kinds of trash found in the bushes of other neighborhoods. I found candy wrappers, a plastic bag hanging from a bush full of old sweat pants and, of course, the ever present empty champagne bottle. Not a bad way to spend an hour.
Chief Sealth High School (West Seattle): Chief Sealth Health Teacher put out the call for volunteers. She needed some signs made for her classroom. I had a good time with markers, rulers and poster board. Turns out high school students still need to be reminded of the various classroom rules of behavior! I think there are probably some adult employed offices that need these too. Let me know - I will come make posters for your office!
Chief Sealth High School (West Seattle): Turns out making posters is more time consuming than I thought. I had to make a second appearance to get the job done!
Ingraham High School (Northgate in the Haller neighborhood of our city): Ingraham High School was looking for PSAT chaperone volunteers. These are volunteers who roam around the gym and make sure students taking the PSAT are not cheating or talking, etc. I showed up and helped make sure students were leaving their cellphones in their lockers and the only things they were taking with them into the test was pencils, bag of snacks and calculator. I learned that Seattle Public Schools covers the cost of the test for each student so any student, regardless of income, can take the test. The school also makes sure that students who have a hard time with testing are allowed to take the test in the library and are allowed breaks to help with any test anxiety. I liked this. I also learned that it would be highly illegal for me to grab a copy of the test to show my son who will be attending high school this fall. I’m so glad I asked before snagging one.
Greenwood Elementary School (Greenwood): Today was hearing and vision test day. I was asked to help the nurse give students a hearing test. Do you remember those? I don’t think the district has replaced the hearing test headphones/devices since 1979. These things are old. They still work which is a testament to things being made to last back in 1979. The students are very sweet and some will make great statesmen someday…making eye contact, shaking hands and explaining their thoughts and policy on the hearing and vision testing.
Beacon Hill International Elementary School (Beacon Hill): BHIS needed some one to drop over to Costco and pick up the ten pizzas they had ordered for their family game night. Turns out Beacon Hill Elementary has a game night when friends/family can show up and play board games in the cafeteria. My two sons and I jumped in the car, drove down to Costco and grabbed the pizzas. We dropped them off to a decent crowd of people and then left to hit a movie. My sons were not happy with me for not allowing them some pizza so I had to break it down for them that the pizza was not for us. We were providing a service and the reward was…providing service. Yeah, they thought that was lame.
Madison Middle School (West Seattle): Got the call that a book fair was going down at Madison Middle School so of course I was there! My job was to sit and be support for any students who had questions about a book or book orders. My next door neighbor is the head librarian and so we had a nice conversation about her goals for the schools library. I did find it odd that a middle school was having a book fair as my only experience with those have been in the elementary schools. She explained to me that, yes, traditionally book fairs have been focused at the elementary level but that she just loves books and her students so much that she doesn’t mind the work that goes into putting together a book fair. In fact, she loves her job so much she is doing something that other librarians are not…working with the local Barnes and Noble to bring all kinds of book titles to the school. She has worked out an agreement with B&N where she goes to the store, picks out the titles she thinks her students would like (she has read most of them herself), B&N delivers the books, she and her team of volunteers set up all the books at the school and, on the day of the fair, B&N is there to handle the cash registers. It’s a win, win for both the school library and the bookstore in that B&N gets a decent amount of book sales in an hour and the school library gets 15% of the sales. As a potential school board member, I see this as a model of how a school library can create it’s own funds and support it’s student body. However, my two questions would be, how do we make this equitable for schools where the student body cannot afford to purchase books? AND would it be possible to work with a small business owned book store like Elliot Bay Books? Either way, my brain was flooded with ideas and sad because I know the current Seattle School Board has voted to force our school librarians to work part time next year. Our amazing asset of a librarian will only be working two days a week and the other three days the schools library will, tragically, will be locked and dark.
Orca Elementary (Columbia City): Turns out Orca Elementary has a periodic Race Forum where people in the community can come and learn about how a white controlled world effects students of color. A friend invited me to attend and I helped her set up/clean up food she had made for the meeting. I found, as a white woman, that I was stuck in my white fragility and I am now working through how I show up in the world via various workshops around race and power. Resources: Holistic Resistance, Fleur Larson Facilitation
Lowell Elementary (North Capitol Hill): I decided that if a school didn’t contact me to volunteer it may be a good idea to at least attend one of their PTA meetings to see what the school was like on the inside and what issues were coming up for that individual school and if they had any volunteer positions coming up. I almost chose not to attend the Lowell Elementary School PTA meeting as this school is located in one of the oldest, richest neighborhoods in Seattle…Volunteer Park. These are the old mansions that look like miniature museums from the outside. President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter owned a home in this neighborhood! The reason I almost decided to not attend the meeting is because I took it for granted this school is located in a wealthy neighborhood and the PTA would be so strong that they wouldn’t need any extra help from me. Boy, was I wrong! I showed up to the meeting and found about seven parents and three PTA members. The discussion was around how little parent participation there is in the school and how few volunteers the school has. After the meeting I cornered one of the PTA members and asked about the lack of parent participation considering all of the wealthy families in the neighborhood. Turns out the wealthy families send their children to private schools and therefore have little to no interest in Lowell. Plus, Lowell has wacky boundaries = a bit of north Capitol Hill, all of downtown (this includes any family shelters) and part of north International District. What parent living in the ID is going to get stuck in traffic trying to get to their child’s school? What parent living in a shelter has the time and/or energy to attend their child’s PTA meeting? Lowell is not the most accessible school for the area’s it services. Of course, this was all news to me and this is also why it is important for school board members to set foot in every single school in our district in order to understand what challenges each school has. Our current group of board members has not made this a priority and that needs to change.
Graham Hill Elementary School (South Columbia City): Turns out Graham Hill Elementary really needed some recess ladies so I showed up! The office gave me my very own reflective vest to wear and keep (let’s the students know I am one of the recess adults) which was fun. I love the students at this school - they give me hope in our future as a country! First, a fine young man (second grader) told the recess lady in charge that he would stick around on the playground and keep an eye on me while she went in to get the next group of students. He then proceeded to show me the various play ground apparatuses, how they functioned, which ones were fun and which ones were not fun. After a few minutes, the recess lady arrived with a new pack of wolf cubs and my companion let her know (while patting me on the shoulder) that he kept an eye on me and how I did a good job. Then he ran off to play with his friends. Shortly there after, three fifth grade girls approached me. They introduced themselves and asked who I was. After a brief introduction they proceeded to discuss how I looked like one of their former teachers. Apparently, the teacher quit and was now banned from working in the district because she violated her contract. These three ten year olds know more about what is happening within our administration than the adults!
Graham Hill Elementary School continued…volunteered as a recess lady again. I wore my special vest and kept busy by picking and garbage in the bushes. I would love to see Graham Hill get a new artificial play field (spoke with some fellow volunteers and employees at the school. They really want one.) Right now the field is dirt with some grass. The kids roll around in it and the baby grass never gets a chance to take hold. How do we get this school a new artificial field that will last? I suggest we get three bids from contractors and then march on over to Amazon and see if they would like to buy the school a new turf field. They could use the good press.
Madison Middle School (West Seattle): My oldest is in eighth grade and this is his last spring fling bash dance thing before graduating and heading off to high school. So of course, I felt the need to chaperone. He was busy at the gaming table playing Magic with his peers (I love that one of my children is a nerd. They are super fun people to know! Seriously.) Other students were singing karaoke or watching movies in various classrooms. I checked out the gym to see how the ‘dance’ was going. Whew - tweens smell! They were dancing alright…and stinking up the place. It was good to see them being comfortable in their bodies and just shaking it all out. I must confess, this was a different experience from when I was in middle school. We were sneaking in wine coolers in hair spray bottles, dancing to Depeche Mode and The Cure and making out in the locker room. Granted it was the 80’s so I will use that as my excuse. I saw none of this activity and believe me as a parent I was looking for it!
Wedgwood Elementary School (University District): Wedgwood Elementary has a fun Monday activity for their students during recess. The kids can walk or run around the concrete ‘track’ and, depending on how many laps they accomplish, they receive a special little plastic foot (or feet) they can put on a key chain. It is clearly a psychological incentive for the kids to get outside and be active. It works! However, the fourth and fifth graders are not too interested. Apparently, they are too old and the activity is for ‘babies’. Which I found to be true because the kindergartners and first graders were all over it like bees to honey. I also found out it is run by a mom who’s child attends the school. What will happen to the program when her child moves up to middle school? I asked her what she thought of the school as it isn’t much to look at (old building and grounds). She informed me that she loves the school. They have a strong PTA so they can afford to have band, gym and art. I was floored by this as I am from the old guard where band, gym and art are not extra programs to be happy to have but staples…like having toilet paper on campus. I feel it is okay for parents to feel entitlement when it comes to certain programs in their schools. I feel entitled that ALL SCHOOLS should have band, gym and art and I’m not ashamed to say that. How naive I have been!
Graham Hill Elementary: Recess lady again. Pretty easy day. Everybody behaved well. I’m still surprised at how short recess is = 20 minutes. Was it like that when I was a kid?
Cedar Park Elementary ( Northeast of Northgate): Cedar Park Elementary activated their PTA Bat Light and I showed up to provide child care for the parents while they had their PTA meeting. The parent leading the meeting was very happy and surprised to have a parent from West Seattle choosing to help out. She introduced me to the large gathering and they clapped! Again, when a parent from a different school/neighborhood shows up to provide service it lets that community know they are seen and they are important. This is the paradigm shift I am talking about. It really can be as simple as showing up for an hour to pitch in. Cedar Park is pretty remote (the tippy top of our school district boundary) so imagine what it might feel like to be acknowledged by another neighborhood? Community! The child care was super easy. The little’s and I colored together and talked about books. At one point I noticed a little girl chasing a little boy and scaring the hell out of him with a pink stuffed animal. A girl sitting next to me looked over and informed me, “They are first graders”, rolled her eyes and went back to reading her book. She was in third grade…way more mature. I found out from one of the parents that the school was shuttered back in the late 70’s early 80’s and the district rented it out to an artist commune for twenty years. They had only recently reopened it to students since the neighborhood had grown. How cool is that?! An artist commune! What a great way to have the space used, make rental income and provide a little color in the area.
Bryant Elementary School (University District): Turn out my friends eighty year old dad attended Bryant Elementary when he was little. This school has been around and has recently received a remodel so it has a cool mix of old with new. I was there to help with a student Art Walk. I never know what I am walking into when I say ‘yes’ to volunteering. I thought I was going to be walking around looking at student art. I was wrong. Art Walk is when students walk from table to table and make art at each table station. I was stationed at the table where people could make stain glass windows using crepe paper. This was a first for me and took a second to figure out how to make one and then guide students. It was frustrating, messy and amazing! I took mine home and hung it on the fridge.
Broadview-Thomson Elementary School (Northwest of Northgate): Got the email that Broadview-Thomson Elementary needed volunteers for their student Art Walk. Well I figured ‘I’ve got this since I just did this at Bryant Elementary!’ Again, I never know what to expect when I walk in. It was a party at B-T! This place was blowing up with energy and fun. First, this is one diverse school - everybody was there. Second, B-T peeps love pizza. As a way to make money the school purchased a ton of pizzas and were selling slices. There was a huge line. There were also tables with cookies, cupcakes, drinks, etc. people could buy. Turns out at B-T, Art Walk means you go around looking at art the students have made. There were so many volunteers they didn’t really need me so I became a ‘floater’ and roamed to the different stations checking in. I did help at the pizza station ordering more pizzas and helped students make nature rubbings using leaves and paper and crayons at a craft table. Eventually, the event was over so I purchased a cup cake, had a cup of Hawaiian Punch and headed home.
Graham Hill Elementary School: Recess lady! Not much to report on this day. Picked up any trash, kept an eye on the kids and really feeling like I want to landscape the heck out of the flower beds.
Lowell Elementary School: After my recess lady shift at Graham Hill Elementary I headed over to Lowell Elementary to volunteer for their Move-A-Thon. I love this little school. As I made my way to the play field I noticed a bunch of little wheelchairs parked along the wall. I had to stop and check them out as I am in a wheelchair too and I’m curious about what brand wheelchairs the little’s are using. Do the chairs look like they are in good shape? And which chair is for which disability? Are any of the students paralyzed like me or does someone have CP? I followed the noise which brought me to the play field where the students were having a good time running, eating snacks (my job was to pass out said snacks) and listening to music. I was very happy to see that the students with disabilities were participating in the Move-A-Thon, some with the help of an assistant. An older woman with braided rainbow hair approached me and we had a nice chat about the history of the school and what new things were coming up. She ran the preschool program for decades and even though she is retired she still pitches in. There was one little boy who I thought was dressed in his astronaut outfit and I thought how cool it was that his teachers were supportive of his dream to be an astronaut and didn’t force him to change his clothes. Turns out I was mistaken. He has an allergy to the sun and wears his outfit when outside to protect his skin. I am learning so much.
Genesee Hill Elementary School (West Seattle): Hit up the Genesse Hill Elementary School Walk-A-Thon. This was the most organized Walk-A-Thon I have ever experienced. Each grade and classroom was a different color with their own color coordinated station. There was even a DJ and free snacks supplied by Clif Bar. This school is brand new and it shows. It still had that ‘new school’ smell…like new car smell but different. I helped prep the Otter Pops for when the students were done with their run and wanted a cold treat. Side note: I once had an Otter Pop shirt I ordered off the back of the box. I miss it. Anyway, as far as accessibility goes the ramp down to the play field was not good. It is not ADA compliant and, even though it’s concrete, has a number of tree roots pushing through the concrete creating for a bumpy ride. The school is new but the ramp seemed very old. Not sure about it’s history but from now on I know to access the play field from the street one block down. Aside from that, it was fun to see the kids getting excited and recognizing who is probably a baby gay and who will own their own business someday.
Graham Hill Elementary: Recess lady. Nothing out of the ordinary to report.
Genesee Hill Elementary School: Graduation day for the 5th graders! I was asked to help with child care for the younger siblings of the graduates so the parents could focus and enjoy the ceremony. There were four little’s so one mom read books and I built a Lego structure with a nice four year old and then we made a marble maze. We met the substitute librarian who is retired but does this on the side for extra income which is cool. Although one little guy missed his dad, everyone did really well and things went smoothly.
Graham Hill Elementary: Well, my last day as a recess lady. I said ‘See you later’ to my fifth graders who will be moving on to middle school and shook hands with members of the recess staff. It feels good to have participated in so many schools this year and looking forward to participating in even more this next school season!