With school budgets fluctuating in recent years, volunteers have become increasingly important to school districts that need to fill out their ranks.
In the past, volunteers were tasked with busy work, such as putting up bulletin boards or laminating, Benner Elementary School Principal Kris Vancas said. But recently, he said, there’s been a greater shift to volunteers working in the classrooms.
“In this day and age, we really need to put our resources with kids,” Vancas said. “We’re held accountable to the success of our students and we want to give our teachers and our students the most resources we can provide them.”
This means reaching out into the community, he said, and bringing in good volunteers to benefit the students. Volunteers will come in and read with the students or supervise small groups while the teacher is doing larger group instruction.
Vancas credited the Bellefonte community for stepping up its volunteer efforts over the years. When he first arrived at the school a few years ago, he said, he noticed there weren’t many volunteers or community connections. He set a goal to change that.
By his estimate, last year 80 volunteers worked about 1,060 hours in the school, he said, compared with 30 volunteers working about 480 hours two years ago.
“We’ve really reached out,” he said, “and the community’s responded as well.”
Many of the volunteers are parents of students, he said, but even businesses with no affiliation with the school are getting involved.
Roger Bagwell, director of research and development for Actuated Medical Inc. in Bellefonte, said he has been working with second-graders learning number groups this year.
Bagwell, the father of two Benner Elementary students, he said he has been volunteering for about two and a half years.
Several employees at Actuated Medical commit one hour a week to the school, he said. With a flexible work schedule, they are more than welcome to volunteer and make up the time later.
“I get a kick out of it,” he said. “It’s fun to see the dynamics of a classroom, and it’s really rewarding ... seeing how you can affect a little kid and how they look at learning.”
Vancas said the school allows volunteers to help up to five times under the supervision of a teacher without a background check. The district has a strong volunteer program, he said, requiring registered volunteers to complete an application and pass child abuse and criminal record checks.
“The goal is to get them registered and cleared so we can utilize people as a district,” he said.