Edit: This article originally appeared on my first website fierygivingtree.com which I’ve since closed.
After a bit of time off, I return to volunteering on St. John, Virgin Islands. I am vacationing here/cat sitting and knew while snorkeling and hiking would be fantastic, something that tied me to the community would make it stellar. I was right.
St. John is a 12,500 acre island, half of which is National Forest. There is an estimated 4000 residents but, try as I might, all volunteering seemed to be tied to St. Croix, when searching online. It took me getting here to be given a volunteer opportunity in cleaning up park trails. I had planned on this but in the end, I went out on a limb and asked the local school if they took volunteers. The Principal confirmed they did and took me to meet the wonderful First Grade teacher, tasked with teaching 14 rambunctious boys and girls. She agreed to have me in her classroom the next day for a couple of hours.
And so today, I joined the First Grade class for their reading of a story ‘Me On the Map’ and then creative activity based on the book. If you’ve never had the pleasure of working with First Graders they are a treat. They are smart, creative, gung-ho to ask you questions, and even gain your approval. They are also little bundles of electricity compressed into a tiny package. Watching them, while they were suppose to be reading, they were in constant motion. They seemed unable to keep themselves in their chair nor could they stop fidgeting with their book or clothing. It seemed almost a form of torture to try to encourage them to sit still and only move their finger along the page. They all got through the story though, with only mild (constant) refocusing by the teacher, who was excellent in enabling them to learn the most from the story.
Next, they had a creative task of creating a book jacket for the book. The teacher encouraged me to make one too [didn’t have to ask me twice – hooray crayons!], as it would help to keep them on task. So I colored my jacket and encouraged them to do the same as she did one-on-one reading with them. It was a hoot. Some were so creative with their images while others just did the basics, using the time instead to expend some of their energy searching for the perfect crayon on checking on their neighbor. It cracked me up how a couple lost their two cut-outs, to be glued, or rather the situation of ‘she took mine’ occurred. However, crisis was avoided with an offer of my cut-outs and I made do with mis-cut images on the table they’d rejected so I could stay on task. 🙂 I was also tasked by one to help her color in her picture, which I did as time was running out to complete the project. The project concluded by them speaking about their jacket and why they choose their image for the cover. Again, this was an opportuniy to see how smart these little ones were with discussion of their decision making process and showcasing their creativity.
The volunteer time wound down for me with Word Bingo, which I sadly did not win. One of the sweet boys said he was sorry to see I did not, which I assured him was ok. The winning children’s glee at their victory – complete with full-on happy dance was rewarding enough. If they could bottle such excitement, there would be no need for anti-depression medications in this world. Then again, we’d probably all be exhausted from the constant dancing and hooting.
My day ended with sitting with them on the rug while the teacher read a story. A couple of children took the opportunity to sit closer to me. A greater compliment cannot be given. All in all it was a wonderful day that I hope to repeat again this Friday.
Benefits of volunteering in a school –
- Virtually no training necessary – the teacher will find activities for you!
- Children are wonderful – they are smart, funny, generous and caring.
- You can make an immediate impact on a life – a tiny bit of encouragement can go a long way.
- It is fun -AND- rewarding!
Who you’ll be working with –
- Children! Your volunteer opportunity would determine the age and children do have different personalities at the various ages. Younger have a reputation of being sweeter while older children often get a bad rap but can make-up for any potential “attitude” with their deep thoughts. At all ages, they will definitely offer something in return.
- Depending on the class you may be the only room helper.
- At least one fantastic teacher harnessing electricity [yes, my mom is a teacher].
Level of commitment necessary – (ranges by location)
- This school took any opportunity to have a volunteer.
- Other schools may prefer you to provide a level of commitment, be it weekly or for occasional field-trips (some level of background check may also be required.) Call one today!