Teachers ask for help
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 26, 2006

'Republic' partnership aims to aid schools

Karina Bland
Teacher Courtney Gaertner wishes for someone who would read with her third-graders at Creighton Elementary School in Phoenix.

Or help them with math and maybe even provide the occasional batch of cupcakes, sort of like the class mothers she grew up with.

With 23 students, Gaertner can't give them each as much attention as she'd like, and they crave someone to listen while they read aloud and ooh and aah over their drawings.

"They love any one-on-one positive attention," Gaertner said. "They soak it up like sponges."

Volunteers are on the top of Gaertner's wish list that she submitted to be posted on the Internet as part of "Contribute to Classrooms." This new partnership between schools and The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com allows schools to request donations and volunteer services from the community.

The newspaper has compiled a database of more than 1,000 public, private and charter schools including some from outside the Valley. So far, about 110 schools have posted their wish lists online at www.wishlists.azcentral.com.

At Palomino Primary School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, teachers are hoping for markers, books and puzzles. The wish list from staff at Sunburst Elementary School in the Washington Elementary School District, is as long as a child's letter to Santa Claus, ranging from boxes of tissue for runny noses to bicycles for kids with perfect attendance.

School budgets don't stretch far. Often, when something wears out or is broken, like violin strings or finger cymbals, there's no money for replacements until the next school year, said Karen O'Keefe, program coordinator at Sunburst. Someone has to go without.

Many schools, like Sunburst, request prizes as incentives for reading or good behavior. The simplest things delight the children, O'Keefe said, such as glittery pencils, tiny pads of writing paper and colored paper clips.

The kids at Sunburst would love swings for the playground.

At Creighton, Gaertner is hoping for books and board games like Yahtzee and Junior Scrabble, along with wet wipes and hand sanitizer, considered luxuries in many schools.

But what she wants most is a class mother - or father, aunt, grandfather, big sister or anyone.

Some parents volunteer in classrooms at Creighton, and they read to their children at home, though mostly in Spanish. Someone to read with Gaertner's students would increase their exposure to English-speaking grown-ups and expand their vocabularies.

Gaertner would like to start a lunchtime or after-school game club, where students would play board games that are but also challenge their minds.

"Our students don't have these games at home," she said. "They don't have books, much less board games."

That might be another good use for a class volunteer, to square off with children over a checkerboard and allow them to practice their English in a less formal setting.

Already, on Fridays, students who do their homework and assigned reading are invited to stay an hour after school. One week Gaertner and the children baked cookies. The next week, they made foam Easter eggs. A volunteer could help with that, also, maybe even supply an activity.

Gaertner has so many plans for this volunteer that it may have to be more than one person. Any volunteers must go through the school's screening process and be under a teacher's supervision.

For now, Gaertner will keep her fingers crossed that someone will take on her and her students.

"It's worth trying," she said.