Parents, volunteers get fulfillment at Bester

February 19, 2006

As her 4-year-old daughter, Emily, made Valentine's Day hearts, Jennifer Eaton checked sheets bearing witness to the books Bester Elementary School students recently read.

The students will get free books for every four they have recorded, Eaton said.

The mother of a third-grade girl, Eaton said she has learned something from time spent in the parent-involvement room.

"As a mom and a volunteer, for me, it was like, you come in here and work with these guys, it was like, I realized, we're all in the same boat," Eaton said.

Last year, she said, she felt like she was in the way of teachers and staff. This year, she said she is impressed with the environment of her oldest daughter's school.

"I felt like even though she had some very good teachers in past years, you'd walk into a classroom, and it'd be total chaos," Eaton said. "You walk into a classroom now, and it is the way it was when I was in school."


Teachers and students have befriended little Emily, and made Eaton, who volunteers about two full days a week, feel welcome. As Eaton flipped through the book of students' reading, Emily breezed in and out of the room, clutching pictures of crayon-red, free-form hearts.

"They're for the kids ... Big kids and little kids, these are my Valentines," Emily said.

As Bester Elementary School teachers got used to new room assignments and new colleagues over the summer, employees at Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream were launching an "extreme makeover" of their own.

They dug out dead bushes and helped with landscaping at the school. During the course of the year, they have donated coats, canned goods and holiday meals, volunteers said.

They even took up a drive for underwear, socks, gloves and hats, first-shift handpicker Judy Pitsnogle said. Her children, now ages 34 and 35, had good experiences at Bester, she said.

"I knew there was a need," Pitsnogle said. "I mean, there's always been children in need coming from that area, but never did I imagine it was that desperate."

Third-shift wrapper operator Rhoda Spencer said she would go home from work and begin calling businesses for donations. Many helped, she said, and fellow employees never turned her away.

"No one turned me down, (everyone) came out and we did our thing," said Spencer, who has no children.

For Spencer, a decision to repaint the teachers' lounge was a no-brainer.

"We did a complete makeover of the teachers' lounge because I feel if you have happy teachers, you have happy kids," Spencer said before a Washington County Board of Education presentation honoring the company's workers' efforts.

While she long has been a vocal member of the Bester Elementary School community, Dodie Green's main involvement in some years was from the sidewalk.

That's where school administrators told her to stand after she was barred from the school.

As the mother of a first-grade girl and students in middle school and high school, Green long has been a Bester Elementary School parent. In years past, that meant protesting the school's congested traffic patterns. This year, it means serving as a volunteer, making copies and preparing projects at home for teachers.

"I've been down here 10 years. This is the best it's ever been," Green said as she cut laminating plastic away from strips of paper bearing phrases for a class.

Green and other mothers chatted about their children, husbands and class Valentine's Day plans as they worked in the parent-involvement room on a recent day.

If Green and the other "girls," as they called each other, have any frustrations about the school now, it's the laminating machine - Bester Boosters is working to raise money for a replacement, the women said.

A bingo night last month raised more than $1,000 for a laminating machine, and about 200 adults and children showed up, Green said.

"We were blown away," Green said.

The boosters group is planning another bingo fundraiser for March 24, she said.

According to Green, the school seems a happier place this year, and while teachers are focused on test scores, that is not their only priority. Students are held accountable for their actions, said Green, who commended teachers and staff for setting high standards for discipline and behavior.

The pressure of test scores has given way to a new standard, she said. Instead of the mantra, "'We've got to raise these test scores, we've got to raise these test scores,'" Green said, "It's now, 'We've got to get these kids to learn.'"

Parents feel like they are part of the school's efforts, Green said.

"There's lots of parents in now," Green said. "There's always parents in here helping out. You're welcome. You feel welcome."

Not only do parents feel more connected to the school, Green said she believes children feel more at home. Green said it's the conversations with other parents that bring her back.

"It's therapeutic to come in and vent to them," she said. "You feel a little better."

As a child in a family of seven, Judy Meagher said she realized prospects of higher education were limited.

Instead, she took work in an office, while dreaming of being a teacher.

As a frequent volunteer at Bester Elementary School, however, she has enjoyed the best of both worlds.

"I've always been a person that's outreached to people," Meagher said. "I'm a caregiver, so I've always cared for people of all ages, especially children because I was never fortunate enough to have any of my own."

She sat in front of a classroom computer, as one child after another was summoned to find information about animals on-line.

An executive secretary for 37 years, Meagher said she quickly can figure out teachers' requests. Since 2004, Meagher, the great-aunt of two boys who attend Bester, has donated time to the classroom, where she once dreamed of working.

She enjoys seeing children learn, and she has helped them read and participated in mentoring programs, she said.

"As for me, being a volunteer, it's enriched my life," Meagher said.

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