‘Organization of organizations’ benefits schools

The Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance is currently helping public education through two projects.

Community Volunteers in the Classroom matches community volunteers with teachers to meet the needs of the teacher, whether it is providing one-on-one tutoring assistance or small group facilitation or general assistance.

“The program can recruit to meet the needs of the teachers,” said Diane Zachary, KPAA President and CEO.

Over spring break, preliminary work to install ceiling fans in 18 of the 35 classrooms at King Kaumuali‘i is the visible sign that the second project is blossoming.

KPAA, as an “organization of organizations,” supports four community-based values included in the Kaua‘i General Plan 2000. The KPAA membership selects priority goals to support these values. Action teams are charged with the task of creating and implementing plans that address these goals.

The Education Action Team first came together in January 2005 to look at ways community support can help public education. The Education Action Team is comprised of Department of Education representatives, business and community people. “We get the reality check from the DOE, and vice versa … we get the perspective from the business community,” said Zachary.

The group established its guiding principles: to encourage, recognize and celebrate community involvement in the schools; to support life-long learning; and to support the Act 51 legislation which ultimately places more responsibility at the local level.

They then interviewed each public school principal to find out what schools needed and the challenges they were facing in meeting those needs in the areas of academics, technical support, facilities, funding and support staff.

The action team gleaned from the interviews some common needs and needs specific to schools. They met again with the principals as a group and reached consensus on three areas — volunteers to help teachers, cooler classrooms to facilitate student learning, enrichment or after-school programs to augment the classroom learning.

“You need to start small and not try to do everything at once,” Zachary said.

The decision was made to focus on volunteers and ceiling fans.

Armed with the results of a survey sent to all teachers, Community Volunteers in the Classrooms program coordinator Sarah Shiraki set to work developing materials, promoting the program and recruiting volunteers.

A school contact person was designated for each school, for most the Parent Community Network Center facilitator. Shiraki found some schools already had well-established volunteer programs, but not necessarily with in-class volunteers.

“We found service groups doing landscaping and installing sprinkler systems and parents doing excursions, but volunteering in the classroom has a different focus,” Shiraki said.

She is now trying to match community people interested in helping in the classroom with what the school contacts indicate are their teachers’ needs.

Shiraki said the program must be flexible because the needs of the schools and teachers change. In addition, not all volunteers want to start off in classrooms, nor can all be available during school hours.

Some volunteers have started by making class sets of materials for teachers; others are helping in the A+ after-school program.

All volunteers go through background checks and receive some training from district resource teachers. In “Volunteering 101” they receive an overview of how to motivate students and how to respond appropriately. They are also taught reading and math strategies.

Schools then do orientation sessions that include site specific information and emergency procedures.

There are currently 20 volunteers in classrooms at Kilauea, Kapa‘a, King Kaumuali‘i, Wilcox and ‘Ele‘ele Elementary schools.

“I always wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how to connect (with the school),” said Janet Sheremeta, a program participant volunteering at King Kaumuali‘i. She read about the program in the local newspaper and made the phone call.

“It’s exactly what I wanted,” she said.

She helps in a kindergarten class every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. She works one-on-one with certain children with letter identification and printing. Sometime during a whole-class activity, she will circulate to different tables and help anyone that needs it.

Sheremeta said during recesses she helps children who have fallen or scraped their knees on the playground. She also passes out snacks.

She says it’s a wonderful program and it gives her something to look forward to once a week.

She has this bit of advice: “To all you grandmas who are watching soaps, get out there … get involved.”

Maren Orion is another program volunteer. She helps at Kilauea Elementary two days a week helping in a kindergarten and a sixth-grade class.

A relative new-comer to Kaua‘i, Orion wanted to give back to the community and went to the school to volunteer. The PCNC, Sue Pantano-Saldana, told her about the Community Volunteers in the Classroom program.

“I’m getting so much out of it,” Orion said. “The kids are so wonderful.”

The program would suit anyone, because “you can practically make your own schedule … and put in as much or as little time as you want,” Orion said.

She recently had a great breakthrough — one of her students learned the alphabet.

“It was very exciting for me and the child,” she said.

Shiraki said that the volunteers will serve as ambassadors to the program. As more of them work successfully in the classrooms, they will tell their stories and others will gain a sense of what it is like to help in the public schools.

The program will be turned over to the DOE in another year.

“The partnerships built between volunteers and teachers will sustain it,” Shiraki said.

“There is evidence that the intent of this program is working,” Zachary said. Schools have asked for program materials and the logo to use in their efforts to increase the number of volunteers.

Hot classrooms were a common concern among Kaua‘i schools. Ceiling fans were on the Hawai‘i schools repair and maintenance backlog list for some of the Kaua‘i schools. After a meeting with Ryan Shigetani, Executive Director of Hawai‘i 3R’s, King Kaumuali‘i, selected as a pilot school for this KPAA project, wrote a proposal.

The goal of the Hawai‘i 3R’s program is to match state, federal and private funds with volunteerism, known as “sweat equity,” in order to take care of R&M backlog projects. The program awards grants to schools that can come up with private contributions and/or sweat equity of equal or greater value to the requested grant amount.

For the proposal, King Kaumuali‘i included matching parent time and KPAA’s commitment to raise matching funds. The proposal was approved.

KPAA has received the first cash match from the Kapa‘a Rotary Club.

Ron’s Electric was contracted to do the preparatory work and wiring. They also provide the certified engineer to oversee the work, which is a 3R’s project requirement.

Volunteers from the Marriott hotel are waiting in the wings to install the fans.

Zachary said she has documented the requests from principals for needs specific to their schools. Whenever she talks to service organizations, she shares the information so interested groups can contact principals directly.

Anyone interested in the Community Volunteers in the Classroom program should contact KPAA at 632-2005 or e-mail kpaa@kauainetwork.org.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com

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