The first team of Global Volunteers served in Española, New Mexico in March, to begin what community leaders hope will be a lasting relationship between their schools and Global Volunteers. The team of 13 volunteers worked on a variety of projects in this Hispanic community, forging relationships with teachers, students, and community leaders. Read on for the team highlights.
At orientation, this eager team of 13 volunteers was given an introduction to Hernandez Elementary School by Principal Diane Lund. Team Leader Peter Kelley says, “What stands out to me is that 100% of the students are on a free lunch program, and the recruitment of teachers is so hard they have recruited several from the Philippines.”
Three-time Global Volunteer Catherine writes in the Monday team journal entry, “On our first morning, we split into two standing teams – one to work outside, starting to clean years of books and unused furniture and junk out of the first of four portables on the huge playground; the other to work inside, in pairs, in the classrooms.” She continues, “The school could hold at least three or four times as many students as the 75 who now inhabit it, so the halls feel empty – like being in a nearly abandoned building, though it is bright and clean, and there are lots of colorful murals and decorations. One hundred percent of the students, we learned, are in poverty, according to U.S. government measurements.”
Many volunteers on this inaugural team assisted teachers in classrooms. While class size is small, the need is great. Teachers need help keeping students engaged in classrooms, and this first team of volunteers was eager to lend a hand. Catherine described one morning in the classroom, “I worked mainly on math with Joseph*, a plump first-grader with missing front teeth and a positive give-it-a-try attitude. He could do the simple additions – counting by 10s, 20s, 50s – but not without coaching. He makes his looped numbers, like 6, backwards so it looks like a lower-case b. And he gets confused if numbers look too much alike: Distinguishing 18 and 81 was hard for him.”
The landscapes that serve as a backdrop for our new partnership in New Mexico are breathtaking. Janet wrote: “Bright sunshine greets us every day with snow-capped mountains in the background. Chilly and cool nights, a constant. We’re at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains to the east, and the San Juan mountains to the west.”
Janet continues in her journal entry, “Our group of 14 is on day five and in a good groove. Reporting progress each day. We have three teams working on the wish list from the teachers at Hernandez K-6 Elementary School. Team One is tutoring students during class time and after school. The team shares many stories of challenges and to our delight, small breakthroughs and accomplishments by the kids. Team Two is also using their professional background to aid in teacher development as well as special education for the kiddos. Team Three is literally moving mountains by organizing four portable trailer classrooms full of materials from books to furniture that are a decade old. Hernandez at one time had over 300 students, today only 75.”
“Team One is tutoring students during class time and after school. The team shares many stories of challenges and to our delight, small breakthroughs and accomplishments by the kids.”– Janet, volunteer on Team #1 in Española
Janet writes, “To be sure, there’s lots to do. And, this group has what it takes to make a difference. When the notion surfaces that we’re only doing a minor part in this large project, we reassure each other that we are playing an important necessary role building this coalition of friendship and growth with the good folks of Española, New Mexico – “Where Cultures Unite.””
The teachers at Hernandez Elementary sought to draw on the volunteers’ talents and asked some of the volunteers to speak about their careers to 5th and 6th graders in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. Lucy describes this day: “The following team members obliged and braved the stage on Wednesday morning to present a look at another world beyond Española, New Mexico: Kathleen, Judy, John, Catherine, and Matt. Each person presented their life story beautifully. While all were very different paths, they all presented the feeling of taking steps throughout their lives that took them to a new level or adventure – never knowing where it was going to lead them to, but nevertheless to take it and see where you find yourself.”
“Each person presented their life story beautifully. While all were very different paths, they all presented the feeling of taking steps throughout their lives that took them to a new level or adventure – never knowing where it was going to lead them to, but nevertheless to take it and see where you find yourself.”– Lucy, volunteer on Team #1 in Española
- “Kathleen spoke about changing careers, going from a successful medical career to being a specialist in education.
- Judy talked about her family connection to learning sign language and the progress of learning to be an interpreter with all its opportunities.
- John compared himself to the children as also being a small-town kid with limited prospects of sports and school, and the process of seeing an opportunity and taking the next step to go places you never expected.
- Catherine told the children about her favorite book, and how “Tarzan of the Apes” fueled her desire to write and travel, which resulted in a fantastic career as a travel writer.
- Matthew spoke about his dream of being an astronaut and never achieving that dream, pursuing the opportunities, experiences, and education that led to a great mix of travel and careers.”
Lucy continues, “Sitting in the audience, I was overwhelmed with the passion that each person had to try to reach at least ONE child sitting in front of them. Well, they did. They reached me. Thank you – not just the AVID presenters – but, all of my team for showing me new ways to learn and grow. You are all a “chapter” in my book that I will treasure for a lifetime. It was a pleasure to meet you, work with you, learn with you, and most of all connect with each and every one of you. Thank you.”
Team Leader Peter Kelley met with the superintendent and a school board member during this service program and both leaders expressed their gratitude for the work done by this first team, as well as their hopes to build a long-term Global Volunteers presence in their community to benefit their children.
*Name has been changed.