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Volunteers find a good fit in Bellingham schools

Community in Action

Bellingham Public Schools’ online registration system for school volunteers has been in place for a full year now. With nearly 4,000 volunteers in the system as of mid-September 2017, the focus now is on matching the right volunteer with the right job in the schools.

“The first year was about building systems,” volunteer coordinator Jennifer Gaer said. “This year, the focus is ensuring our volunteer resources are really making an impact in the schools.”

New this year, “community” volunteers — distinguished from parents or family members of students — will receive orientations every month through the fall. In the winter and spring, Gaer plans to offer something akin to the professional development opportunities teachers receive every month. Community volunteers will learn strategies for building strong connections with students and becoming more effective volunteers, Gaer said.

About a third of the 4,000 who have registered are community volunteers. The other two-thirds are parents, guardians, or family members of Bellingham students. This group is also welcome to attend the orientations.

Gaer interviews community volunteers in order to place them in roles that suit them best. Last year, for example, children’s author Derek Munson taught writing to fourth graders at Cordata Elementary School. The schools have so many different jobs for volunteers, everybody can find a place. Volunteers are called upon to chaperone field trips, monitor lunch or recess, read college essays, or play piano at school concerts. They help college-bound students in the AVID program and students who are also parents in GRADS. Volunteers also support enrichment programs at Cordata and Alderwood elementary schools.

“While I place volunteers throughout all schools in the district, my focus is on Title I schools, to help distribute the volunteer resources equitably,” Gaer said. Title I schools have a disproportionate number of low-income students.

In a year-end survey Gaer sent last June to teachers, parents and community volunteers, the feedback was largely positive, she said. Teachers reported that students get more individual attention and participate in more hands-on projects, such as cooking and art, thanks to volunteers. Parents and community volunteers enjoy taking an active role and feeling connected to our schools.

“No matter the amount of time you can offer us or your skill set, our students could benefit from your volunteerism,” Gaer said. “We have opportunities that benefit our students and teachers, no matter what you are able to bring.”

How to become a school volunteer

Bellingham Public Schools has made it easier with online registration. Go to and follow the instructions.

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