Volunteers sought for VOICE mentor program

August 24, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Paula Cockerham earned Cs and Ds in her high school classes until her biology teacher pulled her aside and said, “You’re smarter than this.”

Cockerham began spending more time on homework and studying harder, transforming herself into an A student. Now, she works at The Boeing Co. as an environmental chemist.

“It just took having someone tell you, ‘You can do this’, and ‘I believe you can do this,’” she said.

In 2006, Cockerham decided to return the favor to Issaquah’s students. She registered with Volunteers Of Issaquah Changing Education — more commonly known as VOICE — and began mentoring high school students in physical science.

Cockerham is one of VOICE’s 155 mentors, and Director Susan Gierke said she hopes to raise membership to 200 volunteers this year.VOICE started during the 2004-05 school year at Issaquah Valley Elementary School and Issaquah Middle School, after the Issaquah Schools Foundation gave a needs-assessment survey and found that students needed more adult support.

The foundation continues to support VOICE, giving it $38,000 this year to continue training volunteers for Issaquah’s classrooms. VOICE’s steering committee also provides direction and support.

The program is stable and established at every school in the Issaquah School District, with the exceptions of Echo Glen Children’s Center and Tiger Mountain Community High School, which have only one volunteer each, Gierke said.

Briarwood Elementary School is still seeking volunteers, Principal Drew Terry said.

Anyone can apply to VOICE, including students in ninth grade or older, or adults who are working or retired. People interested in volunteering can download an application from the schools foundation website. All volunteers must pass a Washington state background check, submit two personal references and attend a training session with Gierke.

During the session, volunteers learn about confidentiality, teaching methods and expectations. Volunteers also meet with teachers or counselors to outline the students’ learning goals.

During the school year, Gierke organizes in-service programs for volunteers, so they can learn teaching techniques for specific subjects.

“The one about math was very helpful,” Cockerham said. “We learned some strategies and how to talk about negative numbers. We know how to do it, but it’s different to teach it.”

Kate Nuernberger, a retired horticulturalist in Redmond, started volunteering in 2007 after she learned about VOICE through Sammamish Presbyterian Church.

“I no longer have children of school age,” Nuernberger said. “We moved here a few years ago. Although there are children in the neighborhood, I hadn’t really thought about a way to step into schools.”

Nuernberger now mentors two boys at Challenger Elementary School in back-to-back sessions.

“This program gives as much back to me as I give to the boys that I mentor,” she said. “Sometimes, the most important part is not helping them with their school work, but it is being an adult presence in their life who is supportive, and who will listen and often just answer questions.”

When she learned one of her students was having trouble memorizing his multiplication tables, she introduced him to a multiplication box. Although his teacher had already showed the class a multiplication box, the student sometimes has trouble paying attention, Nuernberger said.

“When I first started working with him, he didn’t know he could use this box,” she said. “All it took was my sitting down with him, finding out he could not use this box, and showing him how he could use it. I know it sounds like such a simple thing, but for this child he knew he could use” it and it helped him.

With the help of teachers, counselors and administrators, Gierke matches volunteers with students, and helps them determine meeting times. Some volunteers meet during the school day; others meet after school ends in the afternoon.

“We have Skyline students working at Discovery and Sunny Hills because it’s right there, and Issaquah High School students at Clark,” Gierke said

Issaquah High School’s Harrison Cockerham plans to volunteer this year. Last year, he helped his mother Paula Cockerham tutor a girl in chemistry — one of the 188 students receiving help through VOICE.

“Helping somebody is fun,” he said. “Your assistance is really doing a good job. I’m really in it just to have fun, meet new people and help people.”

Get involved

To volunteer with VOICE, download an application at www.issaquahschoolsfoundation.org, or contacting VOICE Mentor Director Susan Gierke at 837-7139 or voice@issaquah.wednet.edu.
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