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Volunteerism at Frederiksen Elementary as a Way of Life

February 6, 2011

by Michael Utsumi, DUSD Parent Volunteer

Frederiksen Volunteer Louise Greer

It’s a Friday morning and thousands of Dublin Unified School District students are learning in their respective classrooms. On this January day at Frederiksen Elementary School, 25 first graders in Brenda Gundell’s room are working on various assignments or are reading. There is also an adult volunteer present. Yes, this scene is repeated in schools across the district most everyday. But this is not your ordinary volunteer. Meet octogenarian, Mrs. Louise Greer.

Louise was raised in Chicago and eventually migrated to California where she and her husband successfully raised five children. In the 1950’s, her family lived in Bakersfield. Over a ten-year period, she worked as both a Kindergarten and Pre-School teacher. “Old school” she calls it. As their children became adults with their own families and careers, the couple moved to Dublin in 2000. Unfortunately, she became a widow seven years ago. “I’ve always been an independent person and I didn’t want to stare at the same four walls – alone.”  Louise said. So, four years ago, she arrived at the office of Frederiksen and simply asked “How can I help?”  The staff gratefully accepted her offer and in no time she was helping in two classrooms, two days per week. Initially, she was grading papers and assisting with one-on-one reading. “I never simply tell the child the word – I want them to figure it out.” she chimed.

Louise acknowledges that the economic downturn has been partially responsible for a diminishing number of classroom volunteers. Some parents have returned to the workforce and some have been forced into longer commute cycles. At a time when education funding is at its lowest point in years, the need for volunteers may be at its highest. Though she now gets around with a rolling walker (her knees act up every so often), she faithfully makes the 1.5 mile drive to Frederiksen. “I could probably walk the distance but then I’d be too tired to help out.” she joked. She continues her in-classroom support on Fridays and then assists in the office on Tuesday mornings. She helps the staff with assorted filing and the construction of incentive coupons for the students. “Volunteering gets me out of the house and I love being with the students. All I need is for someone to say thank you.”

This profile leads us to the more global concept of volunteerism. Earlier this school year, the Frederiksen staff and School Site Council noticed an imbalance of volunteers across the site. While some classrooms had an abundance of support, other classes were lucky to have one. After the school plan was completed in December, the SSC made a conscious decision to help formalize a volunteer program that optimistically could be launched prior to the end of this school year. I recently sat down with both Principal Holly Scroggins and SSC President Michelle Florkowski to understand their ambitions on this worthwhile project. Three years ago, Frederiksen hatched the Friends of the Library program which consistently yields 20-25 parent volunteers on a weekly basis to shelve books, etc. Is there potential to “mirror” that program for the volunteer initiative?

Frederiksen Principal Holly Scroggins and SSC President Michelle Florkowsk

Holly Scroggins: “It’s possible to take some of those elements. We are realizing that it may take a more direct approach in recruiting. A simple flyer may not be enough. Generally, when you ask for help in person, the answer is usually ‘yes’”.

Michelle Florkowski: We also recognize that another pool of potential volunteers has not yet been approached. We’re open-minded at this point and the group may include families whose children have advanced to the middle and high schools, retired teachers, local businesses and seniors. How might this program be successful and has the staff been receptive to the idea?

Scroggins: “Staff has been very receptive. From an individual volunteer perspective, we’d like these folks to start in smaller doses to ensure that they are also receiving a positive experience. But we also want to provide a flexible structure that would suit their respective schedules.”

Florkowski: “That flexibility may also include ‘floating’ between different grade levels so that we can direct the support where it’s most needed. As an organization, we are motivated to get this program launched – even in limited form so that we can refine it next year. We feel very confident that it will become a benefit for our site and maybe even a model for other school sites that are challenged by a similar situation.”

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