Teachers and administrators all agree: volunteers make a big difference in classroom

Volunteer Barb Parenteau reads with a Williams Elementary-Middle School student. Photo/Maya Caldwell

Volunteer Barb Parenteau reads with a Williams Elementary-Middle School student. Photo/Maya Caldwell

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Volunteers are welcomed with open arms at Williams Elementary-Middle School (WEMS). Dozens of parents and community members have signed up this year to help students with academics and sports.

Second grade teacher Maya Caldwell has five volunteers that regularly help in her classroom. Every day of the school week a volunteer spends two-hours in her classroom assisting children with reading. These volunteers have a student in the classroom, but Caldwell says that isn't a requirement.

"Anyone in the community is welcome to help," Caldwell said.

Volunteers can have a significant impact on reading success in the early years. Research has shown that volunteer reading programs such as Reading Partners and the Reading Corps significantly raised reading proficiency. These programs use volunteers to help students recognize letter sounds, rhyming words, letter names, picture names and alliteration.

Caldwell is grateful for the help she has this year. Last year she had two middle school aids that came in to help as part of a class requirement. This year the middle school eliminated the student aid option to allow for more time in the core classes.

"I really don't know what I would do without the help," Caldwell said. "I feel so fortunate. I'm so thankful for them and its made life so much better this year for my students."

Caldwell uses her volunteers with her reading groups. She has 24 children in her second grade classroom. She breaks the children into groups where they read with partners or as a group. They have group discussion, questions to answer, and project pages to complete.

"Having a volunteer keeps them on task and keeps the conversation going," Caldwell said.

The volunteers also assist Caldwell with clerical work and other academic projects. Caldwell has paperwork that needs to be copied or put together in packets. She has one volunteer that works from home who assembles projects for Caldwell.

Volunteers are also used throughout the district for extracurricular activities such as drama, choir, and band. Most of the athletic programs have volunteer assistant coaches too.

WUSD Superintendent Rick Honsinger encouraged community members to volunteer.

"You'd be surprised at how much you have to offer," Honsinger said. "If you've been thinking about it at all, go ahead and give it a shot."

Jessica Trimble is a volunteer at WUSD. She spends one full day a week helping the district. Thursday mornings she volunteers in the high school choir room playing piano for the singers.

"You want to control your own tempo, which you can do with a CD," Trimble said.

Trimble moves down to the elementary-middle school for the rest of the day. There she helps all the teachers with clerical work, reading programs or whatever the teachers need help with.

"Having consistent volunteers is especially helpful," Caldwell said. "We can have things prepared for them to do if we know when they are coming."

Dina Mayer is a long-term volunteer who has helped in the district for years. She previously worked as a paraprofessional with the kindergarten classes and in the cafeteria. She now works as a volunteer with Natalie Mann's kindergarten class.

"I have worked with Natalie for a while so it's a lot easier when we know each other," Mayer said. "I know how she works and she knows how I work."

Mayer mostly helps Mann with the kindergarten reading program. She reads to them and helps them with sight words.

"I do it because I miss the kids," Mayer said. "They're innocent and honest."

WEMS Principal Carissa Morrison said that volunteers make a huge difference in the school, especially in the younger grades. She said volunteers who can commit to certain days or hours per week are especially helpful.

"Teachers can plan ahead and really put them to use," Morrison said. "And kids look forward to seeing them on a regular basis."

Anyone interested in volunteering can pick up a volunteer application and handbook at either school office or the district office. More information is available from the WEMS office at (928) 635-4428.

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