Emma Caviness served as a volunteer this school year with the Argenziano School, working individually with kindergarten and first grade multilingual learners in Educator Rene Holtzman’s Sheltered English Immersion program classroom twice a week. Emma was interviewed by SPS Volunteer Coordinator Jen Capuano about her experience serving this school year.
What led you to volunteering with SPS?
I was looking to explore additional future possible employment opportunities in education, and my position as coordinator of an emergency rental assistance program (Eviction Diversion Subsidized Housing Coordinator) was temporary. I live near the Argenziano School, and especially with the pandemic, I thought that volunteering might also help take some pressure off teachers. I wanted to get involved in and learn about my community and thought volunteering at a school would be a great way to start.
What were some of your favorite moments?
I was impressed with how quickly students were learning. They were mastering their letters and reading basic words so quickly and I could see improvement week to week. One student I worked with went from knowing just a few letters to the whole alphabet in a few weeks. I also loved getting to know students personally. It felt special to be able to sit with a student and see how they learn, to see the how they reacted and got excited when they mastered something. Having these frequent meetings with the same students gave me a chance to get to know them and see their progression. I also liked being in the classroom—it was always buzzing with energy. And I loved seeing all the students’ work, paintings and murals in the school hallways.
Did you learn anything through your volunteering, about yourself or the students you worked with?
Students I worked with were so eager to learn and so quick to push through obstacles. As adults I think we often don’t take suggestions or corrections well—we sometimes can get defensive and we don’t like making mistakes. These students had no reservations about being corrected—they take the information and move right on with enthusiasm. It was refreshing to see how making mistakes or not getting something exactly right can be such a positive experience. For me, this reinforced that we’re all learners and we sometimes don’t get it right the first time. Adults can take a lesson from students about how to take risks and keep at it until we get it.
What kinds of things did you find most interested the student(s) you worked with?
They liked using the whiteboard book, picking out their own books and some of the visual aids like word blocks that we used. They liked playing word games. One student liked to draw so we spent some extra time writing and drawing the last two weeks. Sometimes other students were curious about we were doing and Ms. Holtzman would rotate students in to join us.
What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering with SPS?
I’d say do it! I was hooked after the first two weeks and I felt like I’d gained some new friends. The school and the teacher were so welcoming, it was a joyful place to volunteer.
Visit the Volunteering Program page to learn more about ways you can get involved.