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It’s back to school for volunteers, too

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Tuesday August 28, 2001

Parents and professionals  

are ready to lend a hand 


With students going back to school Wednesday, the Berkeley School Volunteers Office has begun recruiting and training the hundreds of volunteers who lend a hand each year in classrooms, gardens and libraries – both during and after school. 

A partnership between the school district, which provides office space, and the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, which provides the funding, the Berkeley School Volunteers program was launched in 1991, after school administrators decided it was time to take a more proactive role in recruiting volunteers from the community. 

These volunteers aren’t the parents of students in the Berkeley Unified School District, who typically offer their services by approaching their own child’s teacher. Rather, Berkeley School Volunteers are local professionals and retirees, UC Berkeley students and professors, and others who want a break from the weekly routine and a chance to make a difference in kids’ lives. 

“This is direct service with kids, and that’s what most volunteers want to do,” said Berkeley School Volunteers Director Barbara Bowman. “They don’t want to go in and run a Xerox machine all day.” 

Depending on their preference, and how much time they can commit each week, volunteers might assist teachers in the classroom, tutor students after school, exchange letters with a student once a month, or drop in one day a year to read to kids during Berkeley’s popular Drop Everything and Read Day. 

“The idea is to have something that fits everybody, not a one-size-fits-all program,” Bowman said. 

One of the fastest growing volunteer programs is the so-called Writers’ Room, where volunteers are trained to work one-on-one with high school and middle school students, helping students who have a hard time getting words on paper come up with strategies for completing their homework assignments. 

Last year more than 1,200 volunteers helped out in the Berkeley schools, with nearly half of them opting to help out in the classroom of a specific teacher during the day. For a few hours a week, “classroom tutoring” volunteers might sit in with a group of students during group exercises, or read one-on-one with students who need a little extra reading practice. Volunteers are assigned only to classes where the teacher has requested them, Bowman said. 

“The welcome mat is out when our volunteers go,” Bowman said. “I know our teachers want them.” 

At King Middle School, it’s a great big welcome mat, according to King Resource Specialist Teri Gerritz.