In recent months, I have attended many workshops and training sessions that involved several state organizations. All had one main focus: We must succeed in education even during this time of reductions in finances, cuts in personnel and a downward economy; and we must find a way to continue educating students as we are now with no increase of finances. The focus word seems to be “volunteerism” at the local, district, state and federal level.

Many teachers and principals already are jumping on the bandwagon of getting more and more volunteers into the schools and classrooms. Lincoln Elementary School had started the Watchdog Program last year, and it is being joined by Garfield Elementary School and Eugene Field Elementary School with a high interest in getting such a program started in all of our elementary schools. The Watchdog Program consists of many fathers, grandfathers, uncles and any other interested male family members who can volunteer time to listen to students, read, play games, walk through the halls, check the safety and security of the school and be an added contact for students. The kids know they are safe since all volunteers have been checked and they wear a Watchdog shirt indicating they are a safe adult.

In some cases, an individual teacher sees an opportunity to get volunteers in their classrooms. Jenna Higginbotham was very creative this year and decided to think outside the box to locate volunteers. John Higginbotham, her husband, coaches the Ottawa University Braves women’s basketball team. She took advantage of that fact, and together they encouraged the girls on the team to volunteer in Jenna Higginbotham’s fifth-grade classroom at Garfield. It was strictly on a volunteer basis with one or a few students coming in and helping in the fifth-grade classroom on various days. They helped with many hours of craft activities and academic activities.

Two of the fifth-graders told me they liked the “Minute to Win It” activities best. It gave the students a different set of people to interact with, and the college students were able to experience life in an elementary classroom. Some of them might be interested in the education field, so this was an excellent opportunity to watch the fifth-grade age level in action. I can’t imagine the pride the college students had while helping the younger students. One of the elementary students had quite a heightened respect for the college kids after spending so much time with them, mere fifth-graders.

As a reward or as an additional incentive, the Higginbothams arranged for the fifth-graders to be honored as guests at two OU basketball games. It afforded many of the younger students the opportunity to see a college basketball game for the first time. The students were delighted to attend and cheer their new friends on to victory. Two students I spoke to were quick to share their favorite players and their favorite volunteers in the classroom. Besides all of the help the students received, they now have a set of new role models.

As these examples indicate, volunteerism opportunities abound.

Keep your eyes open for a special volunteer opportunity just for you.

Marge Stevens is an Ottawa school board member.