The following is a guest post from Tatiana Truitt, Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at The Barclay School.
No job description ever tells the whole story, especially when the story shifts daily to fit the ever-changing needs of a school community. My role at The Barclay School (an Elementary/Middle School located in Baltimore City) has taken time to navigate, as any new job does—getting to know the school’s culture, its strengths, and areas of need. Some days are filled with clamoring students, others with dramatic readings of Fancy Nancy, or working with classroom parents and brainstorming ways to increase parental involvement, and then there are those that seem to be spent battling the copy machine. In the midst of these days, there have been some that stand out and remind me why I love being at Barclay. My favorite days have been those in which I can utilize my role as a VMC, and the skills and connections I have through that position, to benefit the greater school community.
One of my responsibilities at Barclay is coordinating Story Pals, an early literacy program in which a volunteer reads with a young student (prekindergarten-3rd grade) for 20 minutes each week. The program was started almost three years ago now, and I think it’s brilliantly simplistic; who doesn’t enjoy being read to, at any age really? It’s wonderful to walk around the school and hear children’s books being read by volunteers on a daily basis. When I walk through the halls, little voices yell out to me asking when their Story Pals are coming in—evidence that they appreciate this individualized reading time. Read Across America Day, March 2nd, stands out in my time at Barclay thus far because the entire school community came together to celebrate the joy of reading on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. It was really wonderful to see all of the grades participating in activities, because I normally mostly work with the little ones. In the morning, 4th-8th grade classes went to elementary classes and read with the younger students in corners of the room, and some of them worked on poems or other activities celebrating Dr. Seuss. It was a special sight to walk from classroom to classroom and watch the young students stare admiringly at these older role models as they read together. Every student was able to take home a few free books through a partnership with Reading is Fundamental, ranging from The Cat in the Hat to Goosebumps. Then, in the afternoon, prekindergarten-1st grade classes came into the library to hear stories read by our very own school community members, including our principal, Ms. Heinbaugh, and Mr. Alex, our ESOL teacher, who came dressed as a carrot to read a book about a bunny that hates carrots. Story Pals volunteers were a huge help throughout the day and their presence was another reminder that Barclay cares about reading. The day was a lot of fun and brought together staff, volunteers, families, and students to marvel over the wonder of sharing stories with one another.
As a community school, Barclay has over 30 partners and an abundance of programs on a daily basis. As such, creating events such as Read Across America Day are always welcomed. So when I told the school about the Fishmobile from Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (a fellow VMC Kathy Stevens’ site) everyone jumped at the opportunity, and a month later the transportable aquarium pulled up to our front curb. The Fishmobile, a converted bookmobile, is an example of using your resources to create something extraordinary. The mobile’s walls are lined with tanks filled with Chesapeake Bay critters including a blue crab, seahorses, and a catfish to name a few.
Kathy, her supervisor Kelley, and a volunteer, Ron, did an incredible job of telling the kids about the animals and the importance of the Chesapeake Bay. As the prekindergarten-4th grade classes walked through the mobile they oohed and awed, and occasionally screamed, when they were shown the bottom side of a horseshoe crab, and allowed to pet the diamond back turtle. The opportunity Phillips Wharf provides for kids to walk outside of their school building and be transported into an underwater wonderland is a special thing. The kids had a great time, and I’m so thankful to Kathy, Kelley and Ron for making it such a success. Besides equipping me with a volunteer management skill-set and providing immense support throughout this year, Volunteer Maryland provides an amazing network of connections such as this one with Phillips Wharf.
My fellows VMCs are doing amazing work and I’m grateful to be able to learn about the work they and their organizations are doing and collaborate with them during this year and hopefully into the future. My year as a VMC thus far has been filled with a wide variety of experiences, responsibilities, and characters, and I know that the adventures will continue!