A Decade of Difference!
By Teresa Giacoman
Every morning, Ed Sweeney makes the 5 minute walk to Cleveland Elementary to volunteer with 1st graders. He originally began volunteering via Experience Corps Oakland. “This neighborhood is called Cleveland Heights, and upon joining an online group of neighbors, someone posted that there were volunteer opportunities available through [this] program which is focused on literacy and designed for people over 50. So I thought, ‘This is perfect. I can do this!’” Ed explained enthusiastically. He was set up to support [Ms. Thomas], and he’s been coming back ever since. Eventually, Ed learned that the Oakland Experience Corps group would be disbanded, “And then, thank goodness, I found Oakland School Volunteers, or you found us, when Experience Corps disintegrated.”
OSV: Tell us about a typical day volunteering here at Cleveland.
SWEENEY: There’s an hour-long period between recess and lunch for 1st graders and during that time, I come and pick up one of the students. We usually [set up with our materials] at one of the desks in the hallway near the library, and we spend a half hour together. During our half hour, we’ll do flash cards based on Fountas & Pinnell sight words that they’re supposed to be learning this year, and we’ll get an appropriately leveled book to read (10 minutes of flashcards, 20 minutes of books, or vice versa). All these kids know their F&P level and books are labeled in bins based in the classroom.
OSV: What most excites you about working with students at this age in particular?
SWEENEY: I just kinda lucked into it, but it’s clear to me that 1st grade is a super important time in learning everything about getting along in school. Many students start out the 1st grade not knowing how to read independently, and by the end of 1st grade, if you can’t, you’re really in trouble. 1st grade is a charming period – adults are really important and [influential], and students are eager to please. Because of F&P and feedback from the teacher, I know where they fall, how far behind grade level they are. And since I know this data, I can also see how far they grow with my support, and that’s gratifying.
OSV: Why would you recommend the Oakland School Volunteers program to others?
SWEENEY: I have certainly benefited [from volunteering] – it’s truly a happy thing to look forward to. I really enjoy coming here and spending the hour in the morning supporting children’s learning. I really think it’s rewarding. The beautiful thing about being a volunteer tutor is that all the extra work of classroom management, which is so hard- you don’t have to do that! My background is in finance, but my mother was an elementary school teacher and so, I was kind of familiar with what that’s like. [Volunteering] fills a gap to get to hang out with these younger people, but I’m also thinking about the teacher’s perspective. If you have 24 kids in a class, there is very little opportunity for one-on-one time with the teacher. Different adults bring different strengths, vocabulary, and skills, and sharing those things with your community is very special.