“One, two, three …” kindergartner Harmon Ogdahl counted, pointing to numbers on a chart in front of him as he made his way to 31.
“Can you go further than that?” asked Christine Brick-Contreras, a volunteer at Hoover Elementary School, Coon Rapids.
With a nod, Harmon counted all the way up to 59 without pause, then grinned from ear-to-ear.
After playing a matching game, Brick-Contreras sent Harmon back to join the rest of Sue Brown’s kindergarten class and began working with the next student on her list.
Brick-Contreras is one of 200 K-Skillbuilders, trained kindergarten volunteers, who visit Anoka-Hennepin elementary schools every week to work with kindergartners on foundational literacy and math skills.
District 11 has relied on volunteers to supplement teachers’ lessons for years, but this is the first year volunteers have gone through formal training. Two K-Skillbuilders sessions were offered this fall.
Volunteers in all 24 elementary schools now utilize one set of activities in kindergarten classrooms, eight of which develop literacy skills and three of which target math practice.
“It allows flexibility of volunteers to go from school to school,” said Deanna Bloodgood, volunteer service coordinator at Hoover. Though many parents volunteer at the school their children attend, many community volunteers do donate time at schools throughout the district. The training keeps curriculum consistent at each school.
Literacy activities focus on letters at first – tracing the alphabet, sorting plastic letters – then move to sight word practice.
Math activities usually take the form of a game and involve counting.
Teachers dictate which activities volunteers should practice with students.
Not all students will work with volunteers. Teachers identify which ones might benefit from one-on-one practice and ask volunteers to pull those students aside.
“This is more direct for the kids, concentrating on certain areas that the kids might need help in,” said volunteer Debbie Lindberg, who has been volunteering at Hoover for three years.
After training, “the work that [volunteers] are doing is more closely aligned with what the students are doing in the classroom,” according to Heather Peters, communications coordinator for Anoka-Hennepin Community Education.
The kids know what to expect because volunteers introduce activities that are already familiar to them; teachers have already explained the material.
“It’s nice to be able to lean on the educators,” Brick-Contreras said, adding that the training was very beneficial. It’s even helped her work with her daughter, a student in Brown’s kindergarten class, at home, she said.
K-Skillbuilders’ success should be measurable, according to Parent Involvement Coordinator Linda Rogers. “The proof is in the pudding, and the test is the pudding,” she said.
Kindergartners’ literacy and math scores should increase, according to Rogers.
If there’s interest, the district would consider offering similar trainings for other grade levels, Rogers said.
For more information about volunteering in District 11, contact the Volunteer Services Department at 763-506-1585.
Olivia Koester is at firstname.lastname@example.org