Volunteers get as much as they give

May 03, 2009|By KATE COLEMAN

I recently saw two wonderful shows.

No. I didn't visit my daughter in New York.

And no, for the second year in a row, I didn't go to the Big Apple for a Broadway musical with longtime friends.

I had only to travel a couple of miles to Fountaindale Elementary School for the Arts and Academic Excellence to see the delightful performances.

They confirmed my belief in the value of arts education. They also made me glad that I spend a couple of morning hours each week reading one-on-one with a first-grader and three second-grade students.


I got to school a little early to attend the second grade's spring concert performed for the school's students.

The children made their entrances. Some wore colorful masks, others straw cowboy hats with bright trimmings.

"Dinostars" featured singing and dancing with a dinosaur theme. There was a tango, a two-step, some chorus-line kicking and a "Stayin' Alive" disco number. The attentive audience spontaneously clapped along in rhythm. There were corny jokes and a three-student panel of American Idol-like judges.

These 7- and 8-year-old kids were firing on all pistons - coordinating brains, eyes, ears, voices, hands, feet, arms and legs. They learned lyrics and motions to several songs and executed them in unison. (OK, in unison most of the time.) They worked together as a team. And they learned about dinosaurs, for goodness sake.

They entertained fellow students, their teachers and me, and seemed proud and pleased by their efforts. That's powerful stuff that carries way beyond that grammar school stage.

I was back the next morning for the Volunteer Appreciation Tea. The fruit and scones were great, but the highlight was the performance by Fountaindale Pizazz, the school's show choir. The 30 or 40 fourth- and fifth-grade students are selected after an audition and practice during their recess time.

They sang and danced in tune and in time to rock 'n' roll classics - "Rockin' Robin," "Splish Splash," and "Rock And Roll Is Here to Stay." Young members of a clarinet quartet, saxophone trio, and violin duo magically transformed squiggles on paper into music.

I met other volunteers. There were moms of Fountaindale students, there was a couple whose grandchildren had attended the school and moved on; they continue to come. I chatted with a neighbor who also reads with a couple of children.

Cindy Dean, Fountaindale family and community partnership coordinator, reassures me that I'm helping the children, that their reading improves with the individual attention.

That's good to know, but I really do it for myself. I love being with the kids, watching them sound out a word, use pictures for clues, notice rhymes. It's not always easy to keep them "on task," but part of that is my fauIt. I enjoy hearing about their dogs, or karate, or things they like to do. We have fun. One of my guys recently had me in hysterics with his reading of "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" - a tongue twister he'd never heard but nailed to great comic effect.

I have huge respect for the teachers who are teaching all day - not one kid at a time, but as many as a couple dozen totally different little people with totally different personalities, abilities and needs.

Dean tells me there are 15 volunteer reading and math tutors at the 400-students school. She could use 15 or 20 more - especially for math. (No math for me! Sorry, Cindy.)

It doesn't take much time. It doesn't take technical training.

I'm sure there are opportunities and comparable magic happening in a school near you.

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

The Herald-Mail Articles