CommunityVolunteer Feature: La Escuelita

Elevating Teacher Capacity as an Ongoing Volunteer

One day per week, Darlene makes the drive from Hercules to volunteer in two of her grandchildren’s classrooms at La Escuelita Elementary, located southeast of Lake Merritt. This month, we talked to Darlene about a typical volunteer shift at La Escuelita, how her background motivates her volunteering, and the value she takes from this special opportunity.

What does your typical volunteer shift look like?

“I usually start in my granddaughter’s Kindergarten class. The first time I volunteered, I worked with some kids who needed extra help with writing, and Ms. Hilton directed me to which kids those were. I also went to Peru last year, so Ms. Hilton wanted me to come and talk to her class about Peru, showing pictures and things from [there].” 

Next, I go to the 3rd-grade classroom with Ms. Hair, and I’ve done more prep work for her. For example, I’ve prepared some independent kits for kids to work on. If students need help, while I’m prepping, I feel comfortable to support that also.”

What excites you about volunteering and what prompted you to get involved?

“For me, it’s always about the kids—seeing the kids, having interaction, and time with the kids. Having them recognize you or say, ‘Eden’s grandma?! Eden’s grandma, can you help me?!’ or remembering you and coming up to you. After 37 years of going to school as a teacher, you kind of miss it.

Teaching is a 24-7 job, which I realized when I retired, so assisting the teachers is great. As a former teacher, I know the kind of support [volunteering] provides the teacher is very helpful because in whatever way I can help, whether that’s prep work or working with students one-on-one, it takes a little bit of a load off the teacher. It’s just a question of helping in any way you can.”

What do you think is special about working with students of this age in particular?

“In Kindergarten, they have amazing curiosity. Helping make them feel safe at school and enjoy school is important because they have a long road ahead of them. Setting the foundation is really important for learning, and Kindergarten is that foundation.

In 3rd-grade, [it’s powerful] to teach them the importance of what they’re doing now, because sometimes they think, ‘why do I need this?’ It’s all about reminding them that they are making themselves better, more capable people, who are working to their potential.”

Why would you recommend the Oakland School Volunteers program to others?

“It’s difficult because many people are working, have had bad personal experiences in school, or simply don’t know how they can be helpful. That’s where communication with teachers is important. If [the Ed Fund] can help get the word out and let folks know teachers would welcome support, it helps breakdown [volunteers’] inhibitions. ”

By Teresa Giacoman, Volunteer Coordinator
Oakland Public Education Fund

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Lilly Smith