To celebrate our inspiring Oakland School Volunteers, we’re asking them to share their stories. These are their Volunteer Voices.
Many Oakland School Volunteers report that the most memorable and magical moments are those when your specific background, experience, and talents enable you to make a connection with a student that might not otherwise have happened.
For volunteer and retired UC Berkeley oral historian Lisa Rubens, one of those magical moments came when she connected with a student over the autobiographical writings of Frederick Douglass.
During her weekly visits to Mr. Chavez’s 8th grade US history classes at Madison Park Academy, Lisa heard the student complain there wasn’t enough attention
to African-American history, despite Mr. Chavez’s thoughtful inclusion of a range of topics on that history.
As a volunteer with a deep love for and knowledge of history, Lisa was able to sit with the student and explore the assigned Frederick Douglass writings more closely than would have been possible with the whole class.
Thanks to this one-on-one time, the student, who had previously seemed a little wary or closed off, began to open up to Lisa.
“I just saw her the other day and she gave me the biggest smile, which was so gratifying.”
What a Few Hours a Week Can Do
Because teachers in subjects like history are required to get through the Common Core content (state/federal requirements for curriculum), there’s not a lot of time to stop and address gaps or areas of special interest in students’ individual learning.
Volunteers in the classroom provide support to fill learning gaps and encourage students’ academic engagement and success, which in turn increases their confidence.
In Mr. Chavez’s class, Lisa worked with students individually and in groups to strengthen their ability to read analytically, answer questions based on what they read, develop strong arguments, and express them in clear sentences.
In just a few hours a week, she was able to keep students on task and help them make sense of the history they were studying—and even to get excited about it.
“Volunteering makes me feel part of a student’s education process. I get so much satisfaction from seeing them improve their skills, and from translating a lifetime of academic training into something useful for these future leaders.”
Students Discover History Closer to Home
Lisa’s contribution didn’t end with the volunteer-student connection; she also helped foster deeper connection between students and their peers, too.
As part of an oral history project Lisa facilitated, one student shared his grandmother’s experience of the Vietnam War. A hush fell over the classroom when he recounted her story of the Viet Cong arriving in her community and the death of his grandfather during the conflict. Lisa was moved to see how other students showed newfound respect for the boy and his courage in sharing a painful story.
“What makes working with middle schoolers special is how open they are. Yes, some have attitude, but it’s rarely more than skin deep—they are bright, funny, and alive to all aspects of the world.”
“My smile almost cracked my face…”
Madison Park staff at all levels do a great job creating a safe and welcoming environment for students and volunteers alike. For Lisa, it was very meaningful to contribute to this special school community, which, like others in Oakland, is juggling many needs.
“Without question I’d recommend Oakland School Volunteers. The program is well-run and provides an opportunity for people to be of service, to teachers and to students. And you’ll get so much joy out of the interactions and relationships.
“My smile almost cracked my face at the students’ high school promotion ceremony, I was waving at them and cheering so loud!”
This school year, Lisa hopes to follow some of her middle schoolers to high school as a volunteer. She also looks forward to connecting with other Oakland School Volunteers to compare notes and support each other.
With this kind of commitment, Lisa’s second year as a volunteer is bound to be full of many more magical moments—and we can’t wait to hear about them!
Ready to join Lisa and hundreds of other Oakland School Volunteers? We’d love to help you find the right fit—click here to get started.
If you’d like to make your own Volunteer Voice heard, please email Oakland School Volunteers Program Coordinator Lilly Smith (email@example.com).