Volunteers are heart of Perryville Elementary

Monday, February 11, 2013
April Bishop volunteers every morning in Bethany Thieret's kindergarten classroom. "April has made my large class size more manageable," Thieret said.

While they don't receive a paycheck, the parents, grandparents and community members who volunteer at Perryville Elementary School say that they receive something even better -- the joy of helping children.

"Our volunteers are really the heart of our school," said principal Jennifer Streiler. "They don't just complete assignments -- they make our school more welcoming, encourage our students and support our staff in so many ways. We're very grateful to them. You cannot even count the number of hours they work. They are reliable; when they say they are going to come, they come."

Streiler said that PES volunteers don't consider their tasks "work."

"When I thank our volunteers, they just smile and thank me for allowing them to spend time at school," she said. "They never seem to think it's a chore, and never regret donating their time."

Streiler said that her staff always gives the "fun" jobs to their volunteers. "We ask our volunteers to read to children and listen to them read, to assist with cooking projects, take them to have their photos taken, assist with writing stories, or just listen to them count."

On a recent Thursday afternoon, a walk through the school turns up volunteers everywhere from the library to the nurse's office, and Streiler stopped to visit with a few of them.

Bea Modde, who retired after 47 years of teaching, volunteers two days each week in the Perryville Elementary School Library, where she helps kindergarteners learn to read.

"I love being with the children," Modde said. "They are so funny and sweet; there's never a dull moment. I was a junior high coach for all those years, so working reading with kindergarteners keeps me young. I've had a couple of heart attacks, and getting back to school is my rehab."

Modde has volunteered for six years. Another retired teacher, Margie Triller, also volunteers two days a week in the library.

"Bea and Margie such wonderful volunteers," said librarian Patty Wengert. "They are helping us make great readers. They do anything that needs to be done. They help with our book fair and even bake cookies for us!"

More time for instruction

April Bishop volunteers every day in Bethany Thieret's kindergarten classroom although her children, Treyton and Tegan, are older.

"Mrs. Streiler put out a call for volunteers for kindergarten classrooms this years because it's a large class. I had the time to help, so I signed up," Bishop said. "I really enjoy being here with the kiddos every day."

Theiret said that Bishop's work with the students allows her to devote more time to instruction each day.

"April is amazing!" Theiret said. "She is in my room each day from 9:30-10:45 am. She monitors and assists my children in centers when she first arrives. Then she does other things like listening to children read or practice their letters and sounds. She has made my large class size more manageable. While April is helping the children in centers, I am conducting small group instruction -- so you can see why an extra adult in the classroom is very beneficial. I am very thankful for the amazing parent volunteers here at PES!"

Jean Wengert is a grandparent who volunteers in a big way -- she works 25 hours a week in the PES nurse's office. Nurse Yvonne Spears said that she'd literally be lost without Jean's help.

"We see a high volume of students in the nurse's office," Spears said. "We dispense daily medication for students, take care of injuries and illnesses, clean up potty accidents and do assessments. There's no way Donna (Schoonover) and I could accomplish all of those things without Jean. She's incredibly efficient and the children love her. Over the summer, she helped me paint the office and re-organize supplies."

Like the other volunteers, Jean simply answered a call for help. "Five years ago, I learned that Yvonne needed help in the nurse's office and I was retired and had the time, so I tried it," she said. "I love it. I get to help kids all day and I get paid in hugs. It sure beats empty nest syndrome!"

Streiler said she and assistant principal Mike Wortmann send a volunteer form home for parents at the beginning of each school year.

"We ask them to tell us how and when they'd like to help," she said. "They can volunteer to bake for bake sales or work at the book fair or help in classrooms, and we only call them for the events or duties they've checked. Some indicate that they will help with anything, so we call them whenever we could use an extra helping hand. If it works with their schedule, they're happy to pitch in.

"You can also volunteer without being at school! Some people like to volunteer at home. A group of volunteers who decorated our holiday shop bags. It's like we had our own troop of Martha Stewarts -- the bags were so beautifully decorated!"

Streiler invited any community member to contact her at 547-7500, Dial 8+336 about volunteering opportunities. "We're happy to have your help, whether you can volunteer once a year for a special event or come in on a more regular basis. Volunteers are all asked to complete the required background checks and safety training.

"We will train you to do whatever you want to help us with," Streiler said. "Our motto is 'If you love children, you're already halfway through the orientation process!'

"Working with children is the most joyous thing a person can do. It lifts you up, lightens your heart and it goes without saying that a hug from a child -- even one who just met you today -- feels good for a long time!"

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