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Volunteers in the classroom bring added dimension to our Kansas schools

Volunteers in the classroom bring added dimension to our Kansas schools

Volunteers at Winfield USD 465’s Irving Elementary are proud of the work they’ve done for their school’s outdoor classroom where students can learn outside in nature. Happy Public School Volunteer Week, April 22-26!
Whether its parents, grandparents or community volunteers, children will always gain more from having caring, compassionate adults working in their classrooms. 

“When schools become welcoming and inclusive, it transforms school climate in ways that benefit everyone,” said Jane Groff, executive director of the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center (KPIRC). “Listening to students, families and community members helps school districts and community partners improve their policies and practices because of what they learn.” 

This year's Public School Volunteer Week will take place April 22-26, 2024. According to Project Appleseed, the national campaign for public school improvement, this is the 28th year for the special week that celebrates the “hard work and dedication of individuals who give their time and resources to support public education.” 

Krystal Whiteside, Tanglewood Elementary, Derby USD 260 

Krystal Whiteside, PTO president of Derby Unified School District 260’s Tanglewood Elementary’s PTO, said she and her fellow PTO volunteers have taken a “bring back the village” approach to their school. 

“We need to help one another, build each other up, support each other and our children will benefit from seeing that type of community of parents,” she said. 

With a son currently in the fifth grade and a daughter who will be in kindergarten, Whiteside said her children have taken to heart the spirit of making their school community better. She remembers when her busy family double-booked some evening activities and her son was given the choice between one activity or helping his mother put up fliers for his school’s color run. 

“He said, ‘my school needs help, so I should go with Mom and help,’” she recalled. “That was the moment I realized the impact of volunteering has made for him.” 

Whiteside said her soon-to-be kindergartener also loves to help with Tanglewood’s annual book fair. In coordinating that event for the past three years, she said she wanted to get more books into the hands of students, regardless of whether they could buy them. She said it was then that the PTO decided to look into getting a Scholastic book vending machine. When they realized the cost would be somewhere between $6,000 and $12,000, Whiteside said they decided to refurbish an existing vending machine to dispense books like the Scholastic ones do but at a lower cost. 

“We didn’t know what we were doing but we figured it out,” she said. “We definitely learned a lot about vending machines.” 

Tanglewood students are able to earn tokens for the vending machine for good behavior, academic achievements and other positive incentives. 

Whiteside said the entire project, featured on KSN-TV, Wichita, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0K77npnRCx4) was a team effort and it built excitement around reading. 

“Once you can read,” she said, “the whole world opens up to you.” 

Sally Pipes, Irving Elementary, Winfield USD 465 

Sally Pipes is the director of daycare for Winfield USD 465 and a busy mother of five children, three of who attend the district’s Irving Elementary. It is also where one of the two USD 465 daycare centers is located. She said she believes the time she takes to volunteer at Irving where she also went to school as a child, is an extension of her children’s ongoing learning. 

“At this stage in their lives, their education is the largest component of their day-to-day life,” she said. “Being involved in their school is another way of showing them their education matters and how they spend their day matters. I also believe it is another opportunity to show the teachers and administration that I appreciate all they do for my children and their education.” 

Pipes said she sees her children’s pride grow in Irving where they attend school and volunteer with her. 

“I believe it's important to set an example for my kids on how we can give back to our community and the places that serve not only our family, but all the families of Irving,” she said. “(Our school) is located in the most underprivileged area of our community in relation to other elementary schools, the number of parent volunteers is minimal, so I also volunteer to try and do my part to make up for where others can't.” 

Pipes said she is especially proud of the time she and others at Irving invest in the school’s outside classroom. She said this space, the district’s only outdoor classroom, has expanded beyond a garden to now include a large picnic area for teaching, a sensory area, gazebo benches for reading and a storage shed for supplies and other equipment.  

Pipes said she and her fellow volunteers are proud of the outdoor classroom that is in full bloom in the summertime and can be enjoyed by the Winfield community. 

“The vision is really coming to life and our students see the effort we are making for them to have this wonderful resource and learning environment,” she said. “That is what I would say we are most proud of seeing the fruits of our labor be enjoyed by the whole school.”  

Posted: Apr 18, 2024,
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