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The buzz of learning

Volunteers teach math skills at Barbara Bush Elementary

Created date

April 26th, 2011

If the sounds of happy laughter are any indicators of a positive school climate, there s something special happening at Barbara Bush Elementary School in Houston, Tex. Twice a month volunteers from Eagle s Trace, an Erickson Living community in Houston, spend the morning at Bush Elementary working on math skills with the five first-grade classes. The volunteers set up in one of the school s ancillary classrooms and each class rotates through for a 20-minute lesson. The teachers really make it easy for us, says Jeanne Lelley, one of the volunteers. They do all the lesson planning and preparation. We just come in and follow their plans. Covering topics like measurement and fractions, the hands-on activities support the first-grade curriculum. It s really a win-win situation for everyone, says Robin Brown, a first-grade teacher. The kids are seeing the same concepts taught from a different perspective. Sometimes that s all it takes for them to get it.

Measurement 101

Phil Hollowell, one of the volunteers, is noted around Eagle s Trace for his height. At 6 feet 5 inches, he s hard to miss. But when Hollowell was introduced to the first graders last fall, he was folded onto a child-size chair. We were sitting down the first time the kids met us, he says. They couldn t tell how tall I was. So when Hollowell stood up to tell a little bit about himself, the kids let out an audible gasp. It was fun to watch those little faces as their eyes went to the ceiling, says Lelley. They were just amazed. Seizing the teachable moment, the students first assignment was to measure Hollowell s length. Phil stretched out on the floor and the small group assigned to him began to lay their rulers end-to-end. They started out with five rulers but quickly found out that wasn t enough, says Lelley. They had to borrow a couple of extra rulers from another group.

Diverse population

Bush Elementary, one of Houston s top-ranked schools, is little more than a stone s throw away from Eagle s Trace. Situated along the energy corridor and close to the medical center, the school boasts a diverse population. I have 24 students in my class representing 17 different languages, says Kylie Marks, another first-grade teacher. Many of them come from other countries, and they might not get to see their grandparents very often. They love this interaction with the volunteers. In fact, Marks notes, the students often can t contain their enthusiasm when they see the volunteers coming. One of my students moved here from France a few months ago, says Marks. She s still learning English. When she saw the volunteers walking down the hall, she couldn t think of the right word to describe them. So she stood up and exclaimed, The people are coming!

Benefits for all

That excitement has proven contagious for the volunteers. We re the ones delighted to be here, says Lelley. The children are so bright, and they positively love learning. One of the volunteers, Pat Osborne, taught special education classes for 30 years before she retired. Asked if any of her teaching strategies have come back to her, she replies, They never go away. The volunteers have also made connections with the five first-grade teachers. In February, they invited the teachers to join them for dinner in the private dining room at Eagle s Trace. We were so impressed with the community, says Brown. It s easy to see why our volunteers love living there.