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Back in the classroom

Tri-State parents volunteer in children's schools

Tri-State parents volunteer in children's schools

November 03, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Michelle Griffin wanted to be a teacher, but she turned her life in another direction. She went into the computer field and ended up as a systems analyst for National Geographic in Gaithersburg, Md.

Working with schoolchildren, though, has stayed in the back of her mind.

"You always have that thirst," she said.

Now, Griffin gets a taste of teaching by spending time at Paramount Elementary School, north of Hagerstown, as a parent volunteer.

Every Tuesday, Griffin visits her daughter Taylor's third-grade class, helping teacher Jodi Spickler measure how well students read.

Every other Thursday, Griffin assists in her daughter Kamren's kindergarten class, which is taught by Joan Wetzel.

Griffin is thinking about becoming a substitute teacher.

Not every parent wants a job in education, but parents throughout the Tri-State region make time to pitch in at their children's schools.

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Dianne Brunner helps run the student bank-account program at Paramount, where her daughter is in third grade, and she is active in the parent-teacher organization at Northern Middle School in Hagerstown, where another daughter is in seventh grade.

Cece Culp, the mother of a fourth-grader, oversaw Paramount's annual fund-raising walkathon, which included about 400 children and raised more than $15,000.

Susan Sullivan, whose daughters are in second and sixth grades, tutors students at Lincolnshire Elementary School in Halfway.

A core of about a half-dozen parents organize a pool of volunteers at J. Frank Faust Junior High School in Chambersburg, Pa., said Barbara Hurley, who is one of them.

Parents sign up at an early-semester open house. They may be called on to tutor, shelve books, chaperone at dances or do whatever else is needed. About 50 parents are on the list this fall, Hurley said.

Helping out in school, especially as a tutor, is a great way for parents to contribute, she said.

"Some students don't have parents who think school is as important as I do ...," said Hurley, who has a son and a daughter in ninth grade. "I truly believe that one person can make a difference in anybody's life."

"We can't function without parent volunteers," said Michelle Martin, the principal of Winchester Avenue Elementary School in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Parents there help with the Providing Academic Support and Self-Esteem program (PASS), showing students how to do homework, follow rules and take turns.

They supervise the junior master gardeners, who tend to the landscape on school property. They put together fund-raising book fairs and spaghetti dinners.

Ann Urner is one of those doers and shakers at Paramount Elementary. Once a week, Urner volunteers in Wetzel's kindergarten class, which includes Urner's son, Zachary.

Urner helps as students put together crafts or practice numbers and letters. She goes over the six Character Counts pillars with them.

As a member of the PTA, she helps organize book fairs, potluck bingos, talent shows and the Grandfriends program, in which grandparents or family friends join a child at school.

"You're in there about every other day doing something," said Urner, who also puts in time at Northern Middle, where her daughter, Abby, is a sixth-grader.

Urner said it's interesting that Zachary is in Wetzel's class more than 30 years after Wetzel taught Zachary's father, Hammond Urner.

Whether or not their work schedules are flexible, volunteer parents say they just carve out time.

Brunner is a hairdresser.

Lincolnshire Elementary parent volunteer Shelley Smith is an operations manager for Saunders Financial Solutions in Halfway.

Sullivan's job involves children; she works for the YMCA's after-school program.

Griffin gave up her computer job after she had been a mother for a year. She said she felt a "tug and pull" to be with her daughter.

"This is just something that's dear to my heart," Hurley said.

"I think every parent needs to give up a little part of their life," Brunner said.

"I think it's important, even if it's just an hour a week to spare ...," Sullivan said. "Even sitting at home and cutting out things for teachers."

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