By Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D.
Giving a little of one’s time and talent can make a world of difference in so many ways. Volunteerism is truly a positive force that brings a community together for the greater
good. This month we celebrate National Volunteer Month and Public School Volunteer Week. As Alexandria City Public Schools interim superintendent, I would like to put the focus on the importance of volunteerism.
The most important aspect of volunteering one’s time and talents on the school division level is the difference it makes in a student’s life, immediate and long-term. The efforts of our volunteers positively impact a student’s life in terms of academic performance, social and emotional growth and relationship building.
Among our ACPS partner organizations is Volunteer Alexandria, which assists in connecting volunteers with an experience that best aligns with their interests. VolAlx has been instrumental in bringing together prospective mentors and tutors with students in need of extra support academically and socially, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the benefits of such interactions, research indicates students who meet regularly with a mentor are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school.
Alexandria Tutoring Consortium trains volunteers to work with kindergarten and first grade students who need additional support in reading. These one-on-one sessions during school hours help to ensure students do not fall behind, making for a better educational outcome. This added support is provided in several ACPS schools with positive results. Volunteers benefit too as they say it is fulfilling to be involved, making a difference in a child’s life.
ACPS’ community partners also play a role in elementary and secondary physical education units serving as guest speakers or offering instructional support. For instance, Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee teaches students lifelong bicycling and safety skills. Alexandria Families for Safe Streets provides educational outreach in ACPS schools as it stresses street safety in its materials handed out in English, Spanish, Arabic and Amharic.
Nurturing a culture of volunteerism in our schools is our Alexandria Council of PTAs. The efforts of our PTA families support many activities and events throughout the school division to enhance the student experience from field trips to assemblies and family engagement workshops. Our PTA volunteers who give of their time, talents and other resources in turn help our schools to thrive.
Some people may not feel they have the expertise or the time to volunteer but there are other ways to support our schools. ACT for Alexandria’s Spring2ACTion on April 26 is one extraordinary day when we can celebrate our collective spirit of giving. Every donation, no matter the size, in support of community organizations helps to ensure Alexandria remains a strong, vibrant community for all.
One of the beneficiaries of this local event is our school PTAs. PTAC participates in Spring2ACTion to help raise money for its Equity Fund to support PTA units at division Title I schools that fall below a minimum student to dollar ratio established by PTA’s executive board. PTAC’s focus this year will be on efforts to create field trip equity across the division, increasing family engagement at Title 1 schools, supporting their membership campaigns and providing school supplies for those who need them.
The civil rights leader and former U.S. congresswoman Shirley Chisolm once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
The truth is that the benefits and rewards of an act of giving, of volunteering, go beyond any dollars and cents figure. Volunteerism provides a sense of purpose and pride while making a long-lasting imprint for the better on the community.
The writer is interim superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.