On Saturday, May 11, 40 volunteers worked with young students, grades K-3, in the Belmar Elementary School Tutoring and Mentoring Program, located in Belmar, NJ, sponsored by the alumni driven Yale Day of Service and Stanford Beyond the Farm programs. While this program originally called for 15 volunteers, Principal Lisa Hannah was thrilled to more than double the number of students and add two more grades.
Coordinated by Short Hills resident, Lise P. Chapman, Site Leader, this collaborative effort brought volunteers from Stanford, Yale, Counselor Education - Kean University, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, Junior League of the Oranges & Short Hills, Millburn High School students, and residents from many NJ and NY communities.
Designed in partnership with the school administration, this half day service program, 9am-1:30pm, was divided into three parts: training, tutoring and mentoring with discussion about career explorations. After an orientation and training by the school teachers during the first hour, the volunteers met individually each with a student and worked on literacy and math exercises for over two hours (with a hula hoop break!). During this time, additional Spanish-speaking volunteers shared conversations about teaching and learning with 20 parents.
MHS seniors, Krista Young, Gabrielle McCann participated with Saachi Gupta, who commented, “I was paired with first grader Alexa, who is an amazing reader. Her enthusiasm for learning was truly inspiring, which made sharing what makes reading so special. During lunch, several of the young girls, who were so enthusiastic about math, encouraged us to talk about our future math studies in college. Mrs. Chapman and the principal of Belmar Elementary School have set up a program that has the potential to be incredibly impactful in empowering elementary school students to dream as big as they want, and to help them to take the first steps towards fulfilling their limitless potential.”
After a group photo with over 100 participants, the groups re-met for lunch with each volunteer paired with one student or in small groups and talked about their personal career path. Other volunteers enjoyed conversations with parents. The children, parents and school administration were excited to hear about the variety of careers shared by volunteers, included computer and software design, electrical engineering, law, finance, interior design, counseling, public health, medicine, teaching, and special education.
Short Hills resident, Sharon Portnoi, spearheading Congregation B’nai Jeshurun’s volunteer opportunities in Belmar is hoping to find a way to involve the children in its Religious School program. Mrs. Portnoi commented, “Wow! What an unbelievable day! The school administration was so incredibly welcoming and appreciative of us being there. And the kids were adorable, well-behaved and eager to learn. It was truly a win-win for everyone. I look forward to continuing our relationship with the town of Belmar in the future”.
Volunteers came together from different backgrounds and cultures to make a difference to these students, who were struggling academically and socially even before SuperStorm Sandy hit this town. It was truly an inspiring day. Going forward, many of the volunteers will be working with school administration to develop a sustainable monthly Saturday morning program for the K-8 students, which also could include children volunteers. For those interested in being part of this program, contact Principal Lisa Hannah, www.belmar.k12.nj.us/ or Lise Chapman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lise commented, “I am thrilled about the number of volunteers who reached out to help today. It is truly overwhelming to see this much support and genuine care for others." She added, "When you are working with children on a one to one basis, you can really feel the difference you are making right then and there. Seeing the smile on a child’s face, that is the part why we all volunteered today and helped them dream. I am excited about the opportunity to work together with volunteers to create a sustainable monthly weekend program for these students.”