Volunteers help make ends meet
December 9, 2008 · Updated 3:32 PM
POULSBO — Yvonne Harper’s voice is gentle and free of judgement. She speaks in a manner that makes it easy to share with her or ask for help.
Harper, a retired teacher and principal of more than 35 years combined, hasn’t lost her love for the classroom or her desire to help students flourish.
Yvonne and husband Larry have volunteered at Pearson Elementary for four years — the former school of their grandchildren. This year their grandchildren are no longer at Pearson, but the Harpers have “adopted” 18 new grandchildren — all the students in Alissa Miller’s first grade class.
The Harpers are helping Miller in the classroom by reading with the students a few days a week and providing financial assistance for supplies and field trips the North Kitsap School District isn’t able to fund.
“It really helps me do enrichment things for the class,” Miller said of the “grandparents.” “It helps the kids know there are people who care about them.”
Miller said she wishes the schools had more “grandparents” because now that her students know the Harpers are coming, they all take an interest in reading — and
the one-on-one that comes when the Harpers take the children under their collective wing.
The Harper’s are not alone in their efforts. Volunteers are the backbone of NKSD, and their presence in the classroom and behind the scenes are worthy of commendation.
According to information provided by NKSD’s Director of Communication Chris Case, more than 2,200 volunteers are active in the district and approximately 650 volunteers joined the ranks in 2008. During the 2007-08 school years volunteers donated 108,000 hours of service and in dollars and cents the time donated equals approximately $2.1 million.
A few new and exciting partnerships at Pearson will serve as a platform to tell a few of the stories, and highlight the invaluable efforts and sacrifices made by North End volunteers, which dramatically improve learning for the students involved.
Miller is a single mom of two young children and the household bills are her responsibility. She said she can’t afford to buy supplies for her class let alone wait to be reimbursed by the school’s budget. When she learned the Harpers wanted to adopt her class she was thrilled.
“We wanted to provide things she couldn’t afford because I know teachers can’t afford a lot of supplies,” Yvonne explained. “I think Alissa doesn’t want to ask too much, but we feel at this point nothing is too much to ask.”
Since the start of the year the Harpers helped with a paper mache art project by purchasing the glue. When a new student came to class who couldn’t afford supplies, the Harpers provided a backpack and lunchbox. Miller said the Harpers have requested a “class wish list,” and they’ve talked about helping with the social studies curriculum by paying for field trip transportation. They’ve also discussed putting on a class play and bringing in drama gurus to help. The Harpers will gladly foot the bill for the expert help.
“Just the type of things where she would like to do extra but doesn’t have the money to do it,” Yvonne said. “Just stuff to push the education up a little bit more.”
When the Harpers are involved, even the teacher gets taken care of. Every Wednesday morning when Miller gets to work there’s a cup of coffee waiting on her desk, compliments of the Harpers. On Fridays the couple buys her lunch.
Yvonne’s reasoning for the above-and-beyond treats is simple: If teachers are happy, the children are happy.
“Coming in and having coffee waiting for me makes me feel like everything I do isn’t going completely unnoticed,” Miller said. “Having someone do something special for me has cheered me up and relieved some stress. I know if something comes up at the last minute I don’t have to take away from my own family to provide for another family, there’s a resource for me and I don’t have to jump through hoops.”
Larry Harper works closely with native Spanish-speaking student Jose Santos and serves as translator for Miller and Jose’s parents. Larry’s also helping Jose learn to read. They duo select books out of Jose’s book bag and go to town reading and working on vocabulary.
“I need to learn how to read,” Jose said. “He treats me like a high schooler.”
A few weeks ago Larry took Jose to the book fair and let Jose pick out a few books. Jose selected two on Madagascar. Larry also calls Jose to check in and say hi.
“I like having an older helper buddy,” the 7-year-old said.
Yvonne and Larry will work with Miller’s class throughout the year and Yvonne said they’ll definitely be volunteering again next year, which is good news for teachers all across the district.
“In the next few years there’s going to be a lot of budget cuts and if we don’t have people like the Harpers who can fill in the gaps, it’s going to be really hard for teachers,” Miller said.
What, exactly, is a simple machine? Fourth grade students at Pearson know the answer and they’re not shy to share. Students in Kathy Rowland’s class said simple machines are a wedge — two inclined planes put together — or a screw or lever.
Those are all correct, said Naval Base Kitsap at Keyport Mechanical Engineer Gerry Austin. Austin next had the students recite a little saying about the machines.
“Simple machines help us do work by trading force for distance,” he said.
On Thursday Keyport engineers volunteered an afternoon in the classroom to help students learn about simple machines and create pulley systems as phase one of the newly formed partnership between Pearson and Keyport.
Keyport staff work with students at the college, high school and middle school level, but haven’t touched elementary students, until partnering with Pearson last spring.
“We’re really trying to get these young minds involved in math and science at a very young age,” said Laurie Carson, Keyport’s school enrichment program manager. “The earlier we can touch these young minds is a good thing and it’s a real benefit for students to think of math and science at a young age.”
Throughout the year Keyport staff and engineers will be present in the halls of Pearson. The first trimester Keyport will work with fourth-graders and study simple machines. The second trimester will be spent tutoring and the third trimester they’ll work with fifth-graders on energy and force.
On Dec. 18 Keyport staff will bring simple machines into the classroom providing real life relevancy to what’s been taught. The fourth-graders have already gone on a tour of the Keyport base.
Pearson Principal Patricia Moore is overjoyed her school was selected for the partnership.
“It will bring a relevancy to science and how science relates to future occupations,” Moore said. “It will get kids thinking maybe they’ll want to do that in the future.”
Whether or not students pursue careers in math or science, on Thursday they were all budding scientists who got their fill.
Rowland’s students crafted three different types of pulleys — simple machines which make life easier by trading force for distance.
They were busy and their minds were rampant with pulley making abilities and predictions.
“Pulleys help us work by making stuff easier to lift,” explained Tara Battaglia, 9, and then added what she liked about having a Keyport engineer in the classroom. “I think it’s cool because it helps us learn better.”
Carson envisions the partnership with Pearson extending through the years and said the base is looking for more avenues to work closely with elementary schools throughout the county.
Moore said every other year fifth grade students work with Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor through the Starbase Atlantis Program, but unfortunately every other year a class of fifth-graders miss out on the opportunity. But that’s all changed with the Keyport partnership.
“We’ll have something special for every group of fifth-graders,” Moore said.