New education push: 1 million volunteers to help struggling students
Efforts to recruit 1 million new volunteers, announced Thursday by United Way Worldwide, hope to scale up successful programs to transform the lives of American students.
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But there are barriers to overcome, including some mistrust between parents and school staff, according to the UWW report. Particularly in low-income and minority communities, some feel that the education system is stacked against them.Skip to next paragraph
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“Schools want a good relationship with parents, but especially of late, in the political climate around education, they’re feeling under siege,” says Steven Sheldon, a research scientist at the Center on School, Family, & Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “The accountability pressures on them are around finding immediate achievement test results, and things like a welcoming climate [and] parent trust ... are not on the accountability radar,” though ultimately they are essential for a successful school, he says.
When volunteer organizations coordinate effectively with schools, however, they have enormous potential, Mr. Sheldon says.
One effort his center is evaluating is a mentoring program for 6- to 18-year-olds being piloted by the Boys and Girls Club of America.
The “Be Great: Graduate” program coordinates with schools so that mentors can keep an eye on warning signs for dropping out, such as attendance or behavior issues. It requires a long-term commitment from volunteers, because the longer the relationship builds, the more young people develop trust.
“When they connect with caring, concerned adults, it’s just like a light goes on,” and the mentors become the ones kids bring their report card to, says Jan Still-Lindeman, spokeswoman of the Atlanta-based organization.
Indeed, paying attention to the whole child emerged as a theme in the United Way’s listening tour and poll. Community members raised concerns about bullying in schools and safety in neighborhoods. They rated “declining moral values” and lack of respect for teachers as a key challenge in education.
In the UWW's January poll of communities with low graduation rates, 29 percent of respondents said they worried about their child dropping out of school, and 91 percent agreed that “we as a community have to take greater responsibility for what’s happening with our schools.”
More than half the thousand people polled said they had volunteered in the past 12 months. The top activities they’re willing to do: Work with a church to provide youth activities (25 percent), neighborhood watch (22 percent), mentor children after school (21 percent) and help with homework or tutoring (15 percent).
The United Way has set up a website to help match up people find local opportunities to become a volunteer reader, tutor, or mentor: liveunited.org/volunteer.