Homer High School senior Henry Russell works with Paul Banks Elementary School kindergarten students in Mrs. Wendy Todd’s classroom. (Photo by Wendy Todd)

Homer High School senior Henry Russell works with Paul Banks Elementary School kindergarten students in Mrs. Wendy Todd’s classroom. (Photo by Wendy Todd)

More than just a senior service project: High school students mentor at Paul Banks

While some students at Homer High School may complain about the 40 hours of community service that must be completed before graduating, many find it an enriching and exciting experience. For the nine high school students who are currently volunteering an hour a week at Paul Banks Elementary, the idea of accumulating enough hours to graduate is the farthest thing from their minds.

During their time, students help with a variety of activities: literacy and math centers, facilitating group games on the playground and working one-on-one to help teach skills. One student is even helping with the swim program, sharing her love of the pool.

Henry Russell is a senior helping with literacy centers in Wendy Todd’s kindergarten classroom.

“I chose to help the little ones, first and foremost, because it’s fun,” he said. “But more importantly, it’s a chance to have a real positive impact on someone’s life, so I would never pass up on that.”

For Todd, who taught Russell when he was a kindergartener himself, “it is gratifying to see a student who was shy and reserved as a kindergartener step in and confidently help and lead these young students.”

For many years, Todd has coordinated this program to involve high school mentors in the elementary school. It has evolved into an opportunity for students looking to pursue a career in education the chance to experience their field of interest first hand.

“I would like to become a teacher and helping out in a classroom is the best way for me to see if that is something I would enjoy doing in the future,” said Cora Parish, a senior who is planning to study education in college says.

“I’ve thought about pursuing working with little kids in the future, so I thought it would give me a good feel for that,” said Rylee Doughty, a junior.

Although some students are not pursuing a job in education, they still enjoy the time they spend at Paul Banks, and the younger kids love having them around.

The younger students idolize their older mentors, according to Dina Marion, a first-grade teacher.

“The younger students are in awe of the ‘big kids’ and are eager to engage with them,” she said. “My students are always asking if it is a day that Colby is coming to recess. When they see him, they immediately flock to him and usually start chanting his name.”

Colby Marion is a junior who helps on the playground.

“The kids are more engaged with the game (basketball and soccer) when I am playing with them,” he said. “They are better able to follow the rules of the game when I am explaining them.”

The Paul Banks Peanuts (the school mascot) don’t just idolize the older kids while on the playground. They also look up to them in the classroom and sometimes they verbalize it.

“You remind me of cool,” kindergartener Christian Yenney told Russell.

Whether they are “cool” or not, the high schoolers are unbelievably valuable, according to the Paul Banks teachers. They find it extremely helpful to have another person in the classroom.

“My students and I benefit greatly from having the volunteers,” said Sarah Jones, a new kindergarten teacher. “Having an extra pair of hands to help the students through transitions is wonderful. The high school students can answer questions, help with technology issues and give me the teacher time to work with small groups.”

However, the teachers and little Peanuts are not the only ones who prosper from this arrangement. The high school students come away with senior service hours in order to graduate, but more importantly they create a bond with the kids that strengthens the community as a whole.

If you are a high school student and interested in volunteering, please contact Chad Felice, service project coordinator, at cfelice@kpbsd.k12.ak.us or at the high school.

Rylyn Todd is a senior at Homer High School and a student correspondent for the Homer News. Wendy Todd is mother.

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