As I walk into Mrs. Martinez’s preschool classroom, I am immediately taken in by a sense of warmth and sunshine instead of the cold, foggy January day outside. Inside the classroom, I see children working in small groups, huddled around adults, playing with objects, building towers, and reading books. I hear laughter, questions, and the conversations the students are having with adults and their peers. I feel a sense of cheerfulness, openness, and the joy of learning.
When describing what I see, hear, and feel, notice I didn’t mention teachers. Yes, of course the Head Start staff are responsible for this atmosphere. They have created an environment where students are engaged and having fun. However, what I describe came through observing the family volunteers with the students. This particular classroom has four family helpers that give the students stability and comfort in their busy days.
At AIMS, the Early Math team has the privilege of working in partnership with two Central Valley Head Start preschools. We are in these classrooms several times a week, meeting with students, teachers, teacher assistants, and site directors. We also provide professional learning for the staff twice a month. Throughout our time at these sites we are constantly amazed by the staff’s love for their students and their students’ families, their acceptance of our work together, their willingness to trust us in helping them to implement new ideas, and most importantly, their positive attitudes.
Our team notices something special with the staff members at these sites. We see their passion for their students, growth in their own math content knowledge, and their eagerness in learning more to help their students. I recently sat down with Mrs. Martinez and asked her what she would like to share, and she immediately responded with, “The impact parents have in the classroom.” In our conversation, Mrs. Martinez described her helpers:
“I am fortunate to have four volunteers in my classroom. I have a father helper who is here twice a week, one mother helper who is here between one to three days a week, and two grandmother helpers that are in the classroom twice a week and everyday. The volunteers create stability for the children, a comfort zone and a special bond with each volunteer. For example, when we do calendar in the morning and we talk about ‘today is Wednesday’ the kids know it’s Mr. Z’s day to be in the classroom and they become excited because he is their ‘math bingo’ guy. Each volunteer is a family member and that seems to really unite the classroom.”
We all know as parents and employees how busy our lives are; however, these family members take the time to be present in class and their value is immeasurable. Mrs. Martinez wrote down many qualities that each volunteer brings to the class.
“Being part of the AIMS partnership,” Mrs. Martinez went on to say, “I have taken a little bit of the new information from you guys and tell my volunteers to ask my parents to ask open ended questions and use lots of language to help the students. The volunteers are so open to my suggestions and just want to do whatever they can to help all the kids, not just their own son, daughter, or grandchild. The new knowledge I have gained in working with AIMS is filtering down to my family volunteers as well.”
These amazing family volunteers who bring their support and willingness to not only be present for the teachers, but to help create those lasting relationships and memories with the students, are greatly appreciated. As a former kindergarten teacher, I can stand for this statement, and I will forever be thankful to all the family volunteers I have had through the years. Our preschool teachers are priceless, and their volunteers are shining stars. They mean the world to teachers as teachers are trying their best to put children first and help change the world.