Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features >  Washington Voices

Volunteers provide STEAM extra power

School’s transition aided by friends, family and retirees

It’s not just students and teachers who roam the halls of East Farms STEAM Magnet School every day. Parents, community members and retired educators come in regularly to volunteer.

They help out in any way they can. Principal Tammy Fuller said there are two women who come in regularly to do the laminating. Some volunteers read with students. Members of the PTA often stop by to help with fundraising efforts. There is a Watch Dog program for dads to volunteer.

Robert Thomas has volunteered at the school for the past three years. He lives nearby, but doesn’t have children or grandchildren who attend the school. After he retired, his wife suggested he find something to do.

“She kept telling me, ‘You have to volunteer here (East Farms),’ ” he said.

Since then, he’s been helping with reading and math in the fifth grade. On STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) Day last month, he led classes where students took apart and rebuilt a gas engine.

His contributions to the school have been invaluable to the teachers. Fifth-grade teacher Celeste Simone said if there was an award for changing the community, she would give it to him. Often, seventh-graders who Thomas worked with when they were in fifth grade are excited to him.

Stephanie Hayden is a member of the PTA and began volunteering a few years ago when her daughters entered the district.

“I always wanted to be a mom that was involved in the school,” she said. Of her five daughters, two of them – Kacie, a fourth-grader, and Samantha, a sixth-grader – attend East Farms.

She was at the school this week collecting money from their annual PTA fundraising sale, and comes in often each week.

Barb Schroeder taught first grade at East Farms for 25 years before retiring in 2004.

On Wednesday, Schroeder was back at school, working with second-graders on their reading abilities. She worked through a list of words, asking a student to read them for her. Teachers use the results to help direct each student’s studies.

The volunteers get an up-close view of how students are reacting to the changes in the district, moving from a K-5 school to a K-8 school.

“My kids are adjusting just fine,” Hayden said. She said she noticed last year teachers able to collaborate more at every grade level. Students this year have reacted to changes within the school like they do when they are getting a new teacher at the beginning of the year.

“Every once in a while I hear a parent say, ‘I don’t like it,’ ” she said of the changes. But Hayden pointed out that their students still attend the school. “They do have other choices,” she said.

Schroeder said she hasn’t noticed the changes that much, since she usually works with younger students.

“I hope it works,” Schroeder said. The transition to a K-8 school reminds her of when she was in school and all elementary schools were K-8.

“Another teacher said to me last year, ‘We have to do something,’ ” she said.

Fuller said students love having volunteers in the school. What they do is invaluable.

“It’s a small but mighty group,” she said.