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Volunteer Voices: Turnitin Adopts Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: after hours of work and planning, you finally present a big project, only for the response to be…less than you’d hoped.

What would it be like to get the excited response of your wildest daydreams? Staff from Oakland-based education tech company Turnitin found out recently when they presented a special project to students at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in West Oakland.

Students’ Joy Makes It All Worth It

After reading aloud the book Maybe Something Beautiful, by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, as part of the school’s Latinx Literature Read-In celebration, Turnitin staff volunteers handed out rainbow scratch paper and invited students to create their own art inspired by the magical murals in the book.

Students smiled widely and laughed with delight as they used their “magic” sticks to reveal the surprise swirl of colors beneath the black surface of the paper. Based on their reaction, you might not have guessed that the entire project was carefully designed to meet Common Core standards for English, thanks to the leadership of Turnitin Content Strategist and former teacher Audrey Nelson.

“Many of the students had never seen rainbow scratch paper before,” Audrey told us. “Their joy during that last half hour, when they got the chance to explore this new material and turn what we’d read into their own creative expression—it was worth all the time and planning.”


Adopting a School Takes Work to Another Level

The read-aloud-plus-art project was part of Turnitin’s second volunteer event at MLK Jr. Elementary, which they have adopted for the 2018-19 school year as part of our Adopt an Oakland School program.

Turnitin’s originality checking and authorship investigation services ensure academic integrity, promote critical thinking, and help students K-12 and beyond to improve their authentic writing. When representatives from different teams within the company were looking for ideas to enhance workplace culture, adopting a local school seemed like a no-brainer.

In fact, Turnitin employees were so excited to volunteer for the company’s first project at the school—a Back to School campus cleanup—that the organizers actually had to turn people away!

“[Adopting a school as a company] brings work to another level,” Jenn Vokac, who is part of the Turnitin People Team, reflected. “Instead of just going to work to do tasks, you have a sense of being part of a team that is doing real, tangible good in the community.”

Connection Benefits Classroom, Company & Community

When a local business adopts a public school, there’s naturally a connection with students—but the connections with adults can also be deeply meaningful, on and off campus.

“It’s so valuable to see colleagues in different contexts,” Jenn Vokac continued. “Not only did I get to share a classroom with team members I don’t normally work closely with, but this project gave me an opportunity to see their strengths in a new light. It upended some preconceptions I had about how someone from the Engineering or Customer Support teams might show up in a class full of kids. I was blown away!”

Turnitin staff also connected with the other adults in the classroom: teachers. Volunteers came away with newfound respect for teachers, a deeper understanding of what they do, and appreciation of the value they create in a community.

“Schools are so essential to making a community vibrant and thriving,” Audrey observed. “We absolutely recommend adopting a school to any local business. It’s a great way to see the impact of that relationship over time.”

Long-term Relationship, Long-term Impact

Turnitin volunteers are already seeing positive impact from their relationship with students.

In one classroom, after finishing their rainbow scratch paper artworks, students came together to create their own rainbow page. They discovered by trial and error that you could make new colors by combining others: purple by drawing with blue and red colored pencils, or green with blue with yellow.

“At one point,” Audrey explained, “they put all the colors down and declared that they had invented a new, never-before-seen-by-humans color!”

Open-ended, creative exploration supports children’s learning in all subjects and makes school exciting. Having extra adults in the classroom to organize this kind of experience makes it a gift to teachers, as well.

As volunteers packed up to go, students gave the ultimate sign of approval: “When are you coming back? Can you come to our classroom again?”

Turnitin plans to help MLK Jr. celebrate Computer Science Education Week in early December, and we can’t wait to see what project they design to engage and delight students once more!

Is your business interested in joining Turnitin as Adopt an Oakland School partners? Learn more about the program here.

Turnitin volunteers at MLK Jr. Elementary in West Oakland

PHOTO CREDIT: JOSH EGEL (www.joshegel.com)
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Mia Murrietta