University students turning into volunteers at local schools

by Kori Koch

Anxious third-grade students often raise their small hands from their seats when Kaitlin Brown is around.

For two hours every Wednesday, the University sophomore volunteers at Marcy Open School in Minneapolis, weaving between desks to help with math questions in teacher Dan McGuire’s elementary school class.

It’s been an interesting and enjoyable experience, she said.

“It was like a time warp,” Brown said. “I hadn’t been in an elementary school for a long time and was unsure how to talk to students.

“Now, I’m treated like an older sibling and have casual conversations with the students I tutor.”

Many University students make time in their busy school and work schedules to volunteer in local schools.

The volunteer services department of Minneapolis Public Schools places student volunteers in classrooms across the entire district and at all levels.

Though Brown pursued the opportunity to fulfill a service learning requirement, she said that she decided to continue after it made her feel so good.

“It’s cool to see kids understand things they hadn’t a few months before,” Brown said.

Alison Lindberg coordinates volunteers at Edison and Roosevelt high schools in Minneapolis.

Volunteering and other kinds of community involvement are increasingly important after recent budget cuts, Lindberg said. It also takes students away from the sometimes-isolated community at the University, she said.

“Volunteering exposes students to the greater city of Minneapolis and provides real life experience,” Lindberg said.

Students start learning about volunteer opportunities through orientation sessions in the city department, which later places volunteers based on school needs or the preferences of students, Lindberg said.

“We work with the schools and schedules of students to find a good fit,” she said.

University biology senior Ellen Rashke donates part of her week helping English as a Second Language students at Edison High School. In Mary Lutz’s biology class, Rashke said she wants to become a high school science teacher and considers Lutz an experienced mentor with good advice. Rashke works one on one with students needing help with vocabulary and worksheet directions.

Robyn Cousin, head of the volunteer services department, said University volunteers serve in a variety of capacities. The schools need math and special-needs tutors most right now, she said.

Jim Swakow, a University sophomore, began tutoring math in October at Roosevelt High School. He now works alongside a full-time counselor for a program designed for students with behavioral issues.

“It’s obvious students appreciate my help, even those students you wouldn’t expect to care,” he said.

He said he plans on continuing throughout the semester and into the summer.