PVSchools celebrates National Volunteer Week

Category : Volunteer

VIP Pivots to Support Students During the Pandemic

Monday , April 19 , 2021

PVSchools Volunteer Week

During National Volunteer Week, I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the contributions of the thousands of volunteers who serve our district.  I am especially appreciative of their continued support throughout this unusual and challenging year.

At PVSchools, collaboration between staff and volunteers is an important part of our culture. For example, many dedicated parent volunteers spend countless hours helping their child’s teacher. Some volunteers have chaperoned field trips or coached athletic teams. Others have volunteered in leadership positions such as the School Council, PTO/APT/PTA, or perhaps United Parent Council.

About Volunteer In Paradise

I would like to recognize yet another group of amazing volunteers that I have had the privilege to work with over the past two years. Volunteer In Paradise (VIP) is a growing corps of 100 volunteers that are specifically trained to provide one-on-one and small group instruction in Reading and Math to students who are struggling.  VIPs (as these volunteers are commonly referred to) come from all different backgrounds but what they all have in common is their passion for education and a love of children. 

As the Volunteer In Paradise Coordinator, I am often asked how VIPs are different from other volunteers.  Simply put, VIPs are specifically focused on improving student achievement.  There are also a few requirements that set VIPs apart from other volunteers in the district.  First, all VIPs submit to a background check and fingerprinting. Second, they attend eight hours of training. Finally, to support VIP’s cornerstone of building strong relationships, VIPs agree to volunteer an entire school year with a set schedule that has been mutually agreed upon by the teacher and volunteer. Teachers truly appreciate the efforts of these volunteers as was recently demonstrated by a response from a teacher who learned her VIP had to return to work and would no longer be able to volunteer, “It has been an honor working with you for the past four years. You have made a difference in so many students' learning. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

"As educators will attest, tutoring ranks among the most widespread, versatile, and potentially transformative instruments within today’s educational toolkit." Brookings Institute 10/26/2020

Supporting Teachers during the Pandemic

VIPs making masks

When stay at home orders were issued last Spring, VIPs were sidelined from tutoring on campus.  However, weekly virtual meetings were initiated to allow volunteers to stay connected and to brainstorm new ideas. The volunteers quickly adapted to find new ways to continue to assist students and staff.  For example, when there was still a face mask shortage, volunteers made and donated face masks to school staff members.  Retired nurse, Susan Melker went to work and researched face mask patterns and then conducted an online class to teach all the volunteers how to make face masks. Retired teacher Donna Morrison generously made and donated 100 masks on her own!

VIPs Transition to Virtual Tutoring to Support Students During Pandemic

This past year has truly tested the commitment of the VIPs, and they passed with flying colors! In May 2020, 13 VIPs bravely stepped up to be the first to learn how to become virtual tutors. VIP Kim Ludwig shared, “I never thought I was capable of learning what I have learned...but we had meetings every week and sometimes more than that, as needed.  We had web classes to attend, and I also went on YouTube to learn things on my own. Once we were ready to actually tutor our students, we still weren't alone. The mentors were there to help us and watch us for as long as we needed them.”

In addition to attending technology classes, the VIPs were provided with PVLearners accounts. This special group of trailblazers participated in a pilot over the summer and tutored 29 first-grade English Language Learner students at Campo Bello. They showed great perseverance when learning how to use Google Meet and dealing with technology limitations.  Betty Cataffo said it best, “Newer technology can be our resource even if it is a struggle sometimes.” The pilot was originally planned for five weeks and was so successful that parents and tutors decided to extend tutoring for another five weeks ending just one week before the new school year began!

Campo Bello Principal Jerry Withers commented with gratitude,  “This has been an amazing experiment that impacted our first graders' learning.  This is supporting our goal of closing the learning gap for our second language learners.  Without the ongoing support from our VIPs, we could not accomplish this.”  

Virtual Tutoring During the Summer Improves Student’s Reading Skills

While  the summer of 2020 was a difficult time filled with isolation due to the pandemic, Colleen Klees took a positive approach, “I felt it would give the kids and myself something to look forward to, even though our time together was short.” The VIPs showed great commitment and concern for the students by tutoring on Memorial Day and Independence Day. VIP Sally Luna traveled out of state but never missed a tutoring session! As one volunteer put it, “We might lose momentum if we skip a day of tutoring.” The volunteers celebrated birthdays, new siblings, and new puppy litters with their students. Thanks to the dedication of these volunteers, they logged a total of 446 tutoring sessions and 112 hours of one-on-one instructional time. The volunteers' determination yielded a 78 percent increase in the students' sight word mastery over the 10 week period.  I am so proud of this team of volunteers because they did what needed to be done to help the students despite the disruption of the pandemic. 

VIP & After The Bell Partner to Provide Virtual Tutoring to Students

With the successful completion of the pilot at Campo Bello, more VIPs jumped on board to provide virtual tutoring, which helped us expand to offering tutoring to Echo Mountain and Palomino Primary students.  The volunteers showed great flexibility with constant changes in schedules due to the back and forth from online to in-person learning. It was decided that VIPs would focus on providing virtual tutoring during After The Bell, where the tutoring schedules had some level of consistency and allowed for sufficient instruction time. 

In order to continue to expand into different schools, it became necessary to establish lead volunteers to coordinate tutors at each school.  Diane Hannan took over the helm at Campo Bello, where 20 English Language Learners in first and second grade receive virtual tutoring three times a week during After The Bell. Diane has done a wonderful job with our largest group of students. 

More recently, Cathy McKeever took on the lead role at Echo Mountain Primary. We now have 54 tutors who are providing virtual tutoring. As noted by the District’s After The Bell Coordinator, Tami Taylor, “Our collaboration with the VIP program has been the single best success of the 2020-21 school year for our After the Bell programs. The relationships that have formed between the tutors and students have reached far beyond the classroom. Each of the students has greatly benefitted from having another caring adult in their life, not to mention the one-to-one instruction time they are receiving from experienced, well-trained tutors who care deeply about their academic success.”  

VIP Storytime 

VIP Storytime

This year, we also launched VIP Storytime, where VIPs were busy reading and recording stories for students and teachers.  Our most prolific reader is Esther Kovacs with 16 different stories. You can find the VIP Storytime recordings on the PVSchools YouTube channel by selecting VIP Storytime Playlist.  

VIP & AVID Partner to Provide Tutoring to Middle School Students

I would also like to recognize those VIPs who volunteer to facilitate Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) tutorials with some of our students at Greenway Middle School, Vista Verde Middle School, and Shea Middle School. Melissa Ganas, AVID district coordinator commented, "VIPs took extra steps to learn how to do tutorials in a virtual classroom setting and are excited to continue with AVID next year! Their life experiences play a huge role in the mentorship and guidance provided to our students as they embark on a journey of college and career readiness."  

VIP & Title I Department to Provide Tutoring to Adult English Language Learners

Additionally, thank you to those VIPs who stepped up to be virtual tutors for parents of our students wishing to speak, read, and write in English. Elizabeth Stein, Title I Family Services coordinator adds, “I'm so thankful and grateful for all of the varied services our VIPs provide throughout the school year. I wouldn't have been able to organize such a successful online adult ESL program without all of the time that has been dedicated by our VIPs. It has been a true pleasure working alongside them and seeing them form close bonds with our Title I families this school year.”

VIPs Eager to Return to Campus

Let’s don’t forget those 50 or so VIPs that email me every week asking when they can return to campus to resume helping their teachers and students.  Many of these volunteers feel less comfortable with new technology and are waiting for next school year to resume their greatly needed service.  I have been encouraged by the positive feedback received from those VIPs who have returned in-person to assist teachers in some key areas of extreme need.  These volunteers have shared they feel safe and are delighted to be back in-person. 

VIP Partners with ASU Lodestar Center and the Governor’s Office of Youth Faith and Family to improve its effectiveness and achieve Service Enterprise Certification from Points of Light.

VIP partnership logos

Finally, behind the scenes, VIP has been pursuing certification by Points of Light to become a Service Enterprise. Two VIPs, Cathy McKeever and Esther Kovacs, have been instrumental in this process. In partnership with the ASU Lodestar, the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family, and Points of Light, VIP seeks to assist the district in the delivery of its strategic mission. In addition, I would like to thank the members of the VIP Guiding Coalition for their advice and guidance throughout the process. Our aim is to improve the effectiveness of how we measure and value our volunteers.  

It is unquestionable this past year has been one of the most difficult years for students and educators. However, VIPs have done a tremendous job staying the course for our students and as VIP Cathy Mckeever puts it, “The opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life is what I like about being a VIP. It doesn’t matter to me whether it's virtual or in-person.”  

I hope you will join me in recognizing all volunteers in their continued commitment to PVSchools.  We look forward to the next school year with hope and energy.  If you would like to join VIP or learn more about VIP, please don’t hesitate to contact me at volunteerinparadis@pvschools.net.

About the Author

Marisha GeraghtyMarisha Geraghty has been the Volunteer In Paradise Coordinator for the past two and a half years. She and her husband have instilled in their four children the importance of volunteering to impact their community. Volunteer In Paradise is an award-winning program that has been serving PVSchools students for eight years.