Over the course of six visits, during a period of three months, I had the experience of volunteering 10 hours with kids at Boys & Girls Clubs of the Eastern Panhandle (B&GC). The visits took place both in Charles Town and Martinsburg, West Virginia. The original expectation and the eventual experience were very different, in a positive way. Initially it was my understanding that I would spend time with school students in the after-school programs at local area B&GC’s in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties in West Virginia. My main responsibility during my visits was to help students with their homework. It did start out this way, but what I ended up doing by the end of my clocked time was not this simple (I did not clock all the time I spent, including a brief visit I made to the B&GC in Berkeley Springs in Morgan County, W.V.). It took me a couple of visits before I learned that the goal of volunteering at the B&GC is not the profession you come to share, but rather to:
So, does this work for graduate students at Shepherd University School of Education seeking a Master’s in Teaching? Not being new to the concept of teaching, I certainly did not need to gain additional experience tutoring kids on how to do algebra, or to help them write essays for social studies classes. Although some of the kids did need help with their homework, there were many other things they were doing while visiting the B&GC, all of which I found were opportunities for growth not only as a teacher but as a human being; the latter being more important to being a successful educator than knowing the content you are responsible to teach.
My first experience – 2 hours at the Charles Town B&GC.
This B&GC is well structured and supports several local area elementary schools. During my visit a school bus arrived from Ranson Elementary School in nearby Ranson, WV. The kids were students from 3rd – 5th grade. My entire time was spent in the computer room where the kids did their homework. Other areas of the Club where I did not participate including an eating area and a play area.
My last experience – 3.5 hours at the Martinsburg B&GC.
I started the visit sitting with a 6th grader from a nearby Middle School. We were playing a game where I asked him different math related questions and he would figure out the answers. We then took out a chess board and played a game of chess. All of this took place in what they call the “game room”. The poster above is on one of the walls in this room. I am not a regular chess player. In fact, I consider myself lucky if I don’t lose in the first 15 minutes. We played for a good half hour and I convince him to accept a draw at the end. I strongly preferred this versus winning and him losing the game. Soon after I moved over to the library where someone was organizing Chess Club. I did not fair as well in this room but did manage to share my limited knowledge with some of the beginners who were playing for the first time. My young friend also came to Chess Club and we played again. He did much better but before we could finish I traded places with another boy so the two of them played together. Most of the kids at Chess Club were between 11 and 17 years old. One little girl was proud to let everyone know she was only in 2nd grade and played a great game of chess. When Chess Club finished, the kids went to eat and the younger elementary school kids in 1st and 2nd Grade came into the Game Room. I helped another volunteer pass out jelly beans to the kids. They had to sort them by color and then count each group, count the entire group and then were given the option to eat them. They all ate them of course. After this went on for a good half hour I played pool with some of the kids, walked around to other rooms and visited with different kids doing different things. I did not sit down and actually help with anyone’s homework but everything I did was a form of learning.
In Summary, I see great opportunities for students from Shepherd University to participate in the Service Learning activities with the B&GC. The kids are a lot more laid back after school then they can be during school. They really let you know who they are in this atmosphere. I would be the first to say that I learned as much, or more, volunteering at the B&GC than what I was able to share and teach the children I worked with.