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Hamilton schools welcome volunteer help

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By David Carroll


CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Here is a release from Leadership Chattanooga's education committee, detailing volunteer needs at several Hamilton County schools:

A new playground, outdoor gardens, room renovations, mentoring, tutoring programs and grant writers.  These are ways the community can help local schools, principals say.

In September of 2010, a team from Leadership Chattanooga sent an e-mail to all Hamilton County public school principals to solicit ideas for a class project.

When asked about possible projects to support local schools, principals offered suggestions about how the community can support local schools and further improve educational opportunities in Hamilton County. 

The Leadership Chattanooga team has eight members: Suzanne Bidek, Tony Brown, Eli Cameron, Tracey Carisch, Jamey Dye, Kate Gilbert, Kara Serrano and Scottie Goodman Summerlin.

This group represents eight of 39 members of the Leadership Chattanooga 2010-2011 class. Leadership Chattanooga is a program through the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce that engages participants in teams that create, implement and complete projects that benefit the community.

The team chose to help Red Bank Middle School stock a dress code clothing closet and named their team "Dress for Ed".

However, during the process, the team found that several Hamilton County public schools could use help from the community in a variety of ways ranging from stocking their dress code closets to mentoring. 

The team is sharing the other ideas so that other organizations and community volunteers who want to make a difference can help support local schools in meaningful ways.

Allen Elementary principal Earlene Weeks says her school needs money for a new playground to put in the middle of the school track.  "We need $58,000 for new playground equipment.  A playground equipment company in Chattanooga will match the other half.  This would accommodate 100 students/one grade level at a time to have recess/physical activity," she says.

Weeks would also like help seeking grants to fund an art teacher and a foreign  language teacher for grades K-5, a musician to teach students violin or another acoustical instrument for grades 3-5, 17 Promethean Boards for grades K-5, a video camera for students to do a news cast, a sound system for large gatherings in the multi-purpose room and dollars to pay for development for the Soddy Daisy Network Learning Community (SDNLC) which consists of six elementary, two middle and two high schools in the area.

Promethean Boards are also something Ooltewah Elementary Principal Thomas Arnold would like more of, in addition to a full time art teacher. Arnold says, "We currently have an art teacher part time - funded through a grant with Allied Arts.  However, we would like to have her work with the students on a more regular basis."

Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts Principal Debbie Smith also sees value in help soliciting grant funds. "Currently we are desperate to find the funds needed for computers for our teachers and classrooms in general," she says. "Grants are out there, yet they take time to research and to write."

Smith would also like to have volunteers to help tutor students.  She says, "We have a program called ‘directed studies' that is aligned with the lunch schedule for the middle and high school students.  It basically consists of two 30 minute sessions where students get remediation and/or enrichment in all core subjects.  The high school session is from 12:00-12:30 and the middle school session is from 12:30-1:00. During this time it would be helpful to have individuals that could work with one or two students who might need extra help on homework.  We also have a math lab that is open from 4:00-5:00 where students have access to computers or can receive individual assistance in math." 

"Red Bank High School and our community schools would really benefit from a tutoring program that could reach out to the community," says Principal Gail Chuy.  She says, "We provide after school academic activities for students, however many of our students do not have transportation home in the afternoon other than the school bus and cannot participate.  If we could set up tutoring facilities in the community centers or even churches that provide those resources, it would serve to give academic aid to students and give them an opportunity to witness good stewardship and citizenship practiced by young professionals.  Many of our students do not have appropriate role models in the home or community so they have very little access to develop the skills necessary for good citizenship."

"One of the greatest needs in our schools is the need for positive mentors.  I truly believe that if we had more mentors for the neediest students many issues would go away.  The tangible end would be fewer suspensions, etc.," says Brainerd High School Principal Charles Joynes.  He also says, "I would love to have a beautiful piece of art on my campus to stimulate the creativity and interest in the arts here at Brainerd." 

Brown Middle School Principal Dr. Justin Robertson says his school could use renovation of the cafeteria/auditorium.  Robertson says, "The space now is not conducive for large meetings, as it is outdated and the acoustics make it difficult to control the noise level for parent meetings/school performances."

Hamilton County High School for Young Adults does not have a cafeteria, says Principal Gary Kuehn.  He says, "We do not have a lunch program at our school so students either bring their lunch or go out and buy it at fast food stores primarily.  We have had requests from our students for a pavilion or covered eating area outside that could hold four or five picnic tables."

The principal of Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School says her teachers have three wishes.  Valerie Brown says, "We would like to have a walking track installed at our school so that students could practice for the district's cross country and track meet.  We would also like to create some pits for your students to safely practice the long jump," says Principal Valerie Brown.  "Parents, teachers and the community could also use this track.  Our playground is utilized by the community when school is not in session." Brown says another possible project would be an outdoor amphitheater for teachers to use with classes.  She says, "Students could have classroom or grade level productions, make presentations or speeches or explore learning concepts outdoors."

An easy project at Bess T. Shepherd would be a learning garden says Brown but she says, "in order to accomplish this we would need some plots and materials (dirt, seeds, plants, tools, etc.) for students and teachers to use."

Lakeside Academy would also like to start a school garden, says Principal Marsha Drake.  Drake would like to have a book drive and a guest reader/reading aloud program as well.  Lakeside could also use some spiffing up, she says.  "We really need our portables pressure washed and the porches/walkways to them painted/replaced.  We just made a teacher workroom/lounge/workout room that needs a facelift," says Drake.

CSAS Elementary School could really use technology and leveled books for reading, says Principal William Fain. And the office needs some minor renovation.  "Painting the office could really bring life back to a dated office area.  We want the elementary office to have the physical appearance of being a warm and inviting place," says Fain.

East Ridge Middle School could also utilize volunteers for painting projects says Principal Steven Robinson.

Dr. Tom McCullough's idea takes only volunteers, not money.  This was his request for our group.  "I would love for you to come into Signal Mountain Middle High School and spend some time in our school, talk with teachers and staff.  Develop a perception of what you see and share it with us.  Give us a glimpse of what we are like from someone unattached to the school, " says McCullough.  "I cannot speak for other principals, but this type of project would be valuable to us as we look to continuously improve our school.

Finally the principal from Normal Park Museum Magnet School gave us ideas that community volunteers could do at any school.  "Create a ‘volunteerism day' for one school and bring in lots of volunteers to clean up a playground, fix up a classroom, etc.," says Jill Levine.  "Do a one-time renovation of a specific space (library, cafeteria, one classroom, playground) of one school," she says.  "Provide links from businesses to schools to give unneeded office supplies (even furniture or technology) to schools.  We have a teacher supply depot, but they don't always have enough for every teacher." 



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