Posted by: Francis Koster Published: November 8, 2023
You Can Perform Miracles With Volunteers – Others Have (November 3, 2023)
This is the second email to educational leadership in the State of North Carolina about how to improve K-12 student academic performance by actions outside the classroom.
INSIGHTS FROM FIRST EMAIL.
The first email you received was sent specifically to over 13,000 North Carolina educators and state officials with involvement in public and private K-12 education, including members of every school board in the state, members of the state legislature, DPI staff, leadership of every public school system in the state, and almost all of the public and charter school Principals.
The percentage of people who opened the email was 68%! This is three times higher than the norm for unsolicited emails. As a group, you appear very interested in how actions ‘outside the classroom’ can raise student’s academic success.
A major learning - some readers reached out to express their appreciation over the focus we are taking on actions ‘outside the classroom’ that improve learning, but a portion of those said their shrinking and overwhelmed staff would have no time to implement new ideas no matter how good they were, or how well they worked elsewhere.
This feedback made me review our library of success stories we will be reporting on over the coming months to see how other school districts with the roughly the same constraints successfully improved attendance, grades, standardized test scores, staff retention and statewide rankings by ‘outside the classroom’ efforts.
Many of these success stories have a common element. These successful schools also had staffing issues – but they made extensive use of volunteers. This appears to not only be an enabler of other ‘outside the classroom’ success stories involving buildings, grounds, food, and health, but actually a success story all by itself. A nice summary of how to do that can be seen at Education World.
I reviewed recent literature about volunteering and found that around one-in-four Americans formally volunteer (they register with an organization and are supervised) every year.  Another surprising thing I learned was that there has been a decline in the number of requests people receive to volunteer! One fun observation is that some schools expand their successful volunteer program by adding volunteer staff members, which enables them to grow their volunteer workforce.
There are two different kinds of volunteering. The first is a scheduled repetitive commitment, such as agreeing to tutor ESL students every M/W/F from 2-3pm. The other is ‘Special Event’ volunteering, like serving on a team that uses laptops to do hearing screening on a specific day the first month of a school year.
I am doing some research on different tools and techniques which have been successful for both kinds of volunteering, and will get back to you with the findings.
One example of a success is Weatherly Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. It has 474 PK – 5 students, forty-four % of which are eligible for free lunch. It has 200 active volunteers, including parents, grandparents, retired teachers, and community members.[ii]
The ratio of American school-aged children compared to the number of retired adults has changed considerably as people are now retiring at younger ages. Over half of all Americans over 55 years of age now declare themselves retired – 59 million people. [iii] Of those, 48% of those (28 million people) have at least a Bachelor’s degree.[iv] By comparison, for the same time period, there were 75 million k-12 students in both public and private schools[v]. So for every three k-12 students, one person over 55 years old, with a bachelor’s degree is out there not working for money. What a potential pool of volunteers!
Another thing I saw as I was going through the literature is that most attempts to recruit volunteers seem to be at PTA or Parents meetings, or through emails to students' homes. These requests are going to those adults of working age, trying to raise kids, but not to the over-55 educated group, who might, be perfect to write a grant for an electric school bus. You could recruit these well-educated, sophisticated and retired folks by reaching out via the school's email list to the student's parents, and ask them to explain the need for help to their parents or other extended family members. Tell them how they can assist your children's school using the skills they gained in their career.
I am going to be looking for success stories of recruiting volunteers who are well educated, retired, and with sophisticated project skills for ‘outside the classroom’ projects – not tutoring or interacting with students directly.
After some poking around, I found out that the State of Florida gives awards to school volunteer programs that document that the school's volunteers delivered an average of 3 hours of volunteer support per student each year. I have been unable to locate any centralized reporting of North Carolina metrics about number of registered volunteers, or number of volunteer hours, either school or school district aggregated for the state. If you know of any such data, I would appreciate it if you would introduce me to the responsible party so they can tutor me about lessons that may be helpful to all of our group. Just send any information you think useful to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is tutoring for me (see – you will be volunteering 😊) I will not share any information without explicit written permission.
Depending on the interest you display in this topic, I may increase the number of newsletters which include this topic as a major component.
I was also quite surprised to see that no one from any of North Carolina 115 public school districts and Charter Schools clicked on the link to learn about grants for electric school buses. No one. FYI, if this is true in other states as well, all districts that do apply have better than anticipated chance of winning a grant. Just sayin……..(More grant opportunities have been added this week.)
Moving forward, please consider me your consultant. Just tell me what area you would like me focus on to support your success, and I will try my best to meet your need. Just send a note to email@example.com.
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Francis P. Koster Ed.D.
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