One way to give back to the local community is through volunteering to educate our youth. In particular, teaching low income and at-risk youth can make a lasting difference both in the life of an individual and the community at large.
Several area volunteer agencies specialize in education. Here is a sampling of a few who could use more volunteers.
Family Learning Institute ― Reading and Math Education
Each spring for the last five years, WCC has hosted a spelling bee called “Bee on Board for Literacy.” This fundraiser brings in up to $35,000 for the Family Learning Institute or FLI.
FLI helps children of poverty find a way to succeed in school. The organization, started by retired teacher, Doris Sperling, served the first few students in 2000 and has grown since. Currently, FLI is providing reading help for 48 students and math help for 14.
Students from Washtenaw County in second through fifth grades who qualify as low-income and are at least one grade behind in reading may enter the program.
Each child, upon admission, is given a test called the Qualitative Reading Inventory. This test becomes the basis for an individualized plan to build the student’s ability where he is weak. A test at the end of the year assesses progress.
The program gives focused attention to learners that is often difficult for teachers to provide in schools. In addition to weekly one-on-one sessions with an assigned coach, the students meet in small groups to practice writing and group interaction skills.
The teaching focuses on practical skills like organizing thoughts. For this skill a “brain storm box” is used, where a central theme is supported by the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. The five fingers of a hand aid in recall.
Teachers follow a scripted lesson plan.
“We’ve come a long way in supporting the coaches,” said Amy Rolfes executive director of FLI. “When a volunteer signs up to coach it’s our duty to teach the teacher.” This includes classes for coaches on specific topics such as the culture of poverty.
The results of FLI’s methods have been impressive. Between 70 and 80 percent of the students increase their reading grade by at least one level.
826Michigan ― Teaching creative expression through writing
The intriguingly named Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair Store sells an array of novelty items, mostly with a robot theme. Here one can purchase replacement positronic brains, grasping appendages, robot tears and even “Robot Roast” coffee.
It is behind the red curtain at the back of the store where the real magic happens. In the back room, students ages 6-18, obtain homework help and learn to express their creativity through writing.
Welcome to 826Michigan, one of only eight 826 sites around the country. The original 826 was created in San Francisco, in 2002, by author Dave Eggers.
Ann Arbor got on board with the franchise in 2005. The store was originally monster-themed and located on State Street near Briarwood Mall. However, the robots staged a coup and moved the headquarters to 115 E. Liberty Street.
Volunteers, who call themselves “robotiers,” (pronounced: robot-ee-ays) mind the store. Emily Jennings, 38, of Ann Arbor has worked there for three years and enjoys the freedom it affords to do her own work on her laptop. The robots pique the children’s interest in learning. Money from sales goes to support the educational projects.
Volunteers are also central to supporting this mission.
One such project is drop-in tutoring, which takes place Monday through Thursday, between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.,. Here, local students may get individualized help with their class assignments.
Another project is the Creative Writing Workshops offered on weekends and evenings. These sessions introduce creative forms of writing and usually last 90 minutes. Themes have included mapping a fantasy universe, exploring the concept of infinity and creating one’s own superhero.
Besides these one-off classes, there is a continuing session called Story Problems: Prose and Poetry Workshop where students bring in and discuss their independent writings with others. Classes are held regularly for SAT preparation and essay writing for college applications.
“We give students as much one-on-one attention as we can,” said Program Coordinator Catherine Calabro. “That’s something that’s disappearing from a lot of classrooms.”
The student-teacher ratio is usually no greater than 3-1.
Most of these teachers are volunteers, adults who have completed high school, filled out an application, passed a background check and gone through an orientation session.
826Michigan especially needs volunteers for its off-site projects in the Ypsilanti area.
At Ypsilanti Middle School, 50 students meet from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. for homework help and a book project, four days a week. The book will be a professionally bound anthology of written works from all of the participants. Volunteers make this happen.
In-school residency programs are another way to contribute. Volunteers in the program act as teacher’s aids by providing one-on-one help to students, grading papers and manning reading and writing stations.
826Michigan provides all the training needed for willing volunteers, but they need people to train.
To get involved visit 826Michigan.org, click on the volunteer tab, then click on the link to the online volunteer application.
Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum ― Science Education
In the spring of most years, the Automotive and Motorcycle Technology Department of WCC transports a load of equipment and puts on a fun-filled weekend demonstration at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum located at 220 E. Ann St. The project is run by volunteer students and faculty aided by museum staff.
Similar events occur throughout the year at this family-oriented science education venue. The museum is designed to engage youth in the joy of science by making it interactive and fun.
It takes a village of volunteers, however, to make all the projects happen, about 500 volunteers each year. These unpaid helpers are typically high school or college students or members of a community or industry group with an interest in science education.
Volunteers must be older than 18 or 11-18 with a work permit, said Ann Hernandez, acting director of Educational Programs.
Jobs may include preparation and packaging of materials for hands-on experiments, mailing out materials for videoconference-based learning, manning demonstrations, office work and fund-raising. Some representative projects have been kaleidoscope building and making slime.
Learning science is a family affair.
“When people are helping out with these activities they are not only talking to just kids, but also to whole families,” Hernandez said.
Groups that have volunteered at the museum include Key Club (high school Kiwanis), Circle K (college Kiwanis), the Rotary Club, fraternities and sororities like Alpha Phi Omega from the University of Michigan.
Join the fun the next time WCC presents its Car Carnival, but don’t wait until then to enjoy the museum and to get involved with this valued community asset.
To join the fun, visit aahom.org and click on “Volunteer” in the “About Us” dropdown menu. There is both a group and individual volunteer application.