For the past three years, volunteer coordinator Jennifer Gaer has been growing the volunteer program in Bellingham Public Schools. She’s organized and streamlined the process for volunteers to register and find opportunities. She’s also built relationships and connections with many of the more than 5,000 volunteers. She noticed that many of her volunteers were retired teachers and joked that thankfully, retired teachers never really retire. Here are a few of the wonderful volunteers who happen to be retired educators who are finding themselves back in the classroom and continue to help our students learn and grow.
Columbia Elementary School
Harriet Arkley has been volunteering with Bellingham Public Schools for eight years. She was an elementary school teacher who taught first, third and fourth grades in Washington and Michigan. Later she became an elementary school principal at a school in Springfield, Ill. After retirement she moved to Bellingham and authored a book called The Good News Chair based on her time as an educator.
After moving to Bellingham, Harriet decided she wanted to volunteer and approached Larrabee Elementary School.
“I think that I just lucked out because she came into the office at Larrabee and offered to volunteer,” Pittis said. “I was right there when she walked in. It was destiny!”
Harriet began volunteering with Pittis at Larrabee and then moved to Columbia when Pittis began teaching there.
“Harriet is positive, a gifted educator, creative and hardworking,” Pittis said. “She helps kids read, write and do academics, but enjoys going out to recess with them, sharing a book with the class or helping me clean up.”
One popular activity Harriet does with the second graders at Columbia is knitting. She explains that knitting supports fine-motor skills, concentration and reading skills.
“Volunteering in a primary classroom keeps me connected to my deeply rewarding career as an educator,” Harriet said. “The real joy, however, is watching Jennifer Pittis, an extraordinary teacher, give her students such a rich school experience.”
Pittis said it has been a great experience having Harriet spend time with her students.
“I don’t even know if I can find the words to express how important Harriet is to me and to my students,” Pittis said.
Happy Valley Elementary School
Jeff Eastman has been volunteering at Happy Valley since last year. Jeff taught for 44 years before retiring. He taught for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools for two years in the Republic of the Philippines, 26 years in Japan and the last 14 years in England. He primarily taught at the elementary school level as an educational technologist and as a teacher of the gifted and talented. He also taught middle school wood-shop, drama, social studies and math.
At Happy Valley, Jeff has volunteered with students on a variety of projects and lessons in Tara Vodopich’s third grade class.
“Working with Mr. Eastman for the past two school years has been fantastic,” said Vodopich. “From identifying rocks to completing engineering challenges to designing sets for our school musical, Mr. Eastman’s creativity and expertise have been such a gift to me and my students.”
Jeff said he loves volunteering at Happy Valley and looks forward to continuing to do so.
“Volunteering in the Bellingham schools has been so much fun due to the enthusiasm, creativity and talent the students have shown in their work, whether it be in creative problem solving activities, dramatic endeavors or Lego robotics,” Jeff said. “Volunteering with the youth helps one to maintain a youthful outlook on life and confidence in the future of our world as a whole.”
Tara Reynolds was an educator for more than 30 years as a classroom teacher and administrator. She retired as the assistant superintendent for the Office of Special Education and Psychological Services in Miami, FL. Tara then moved to Bellingham to be closer to her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
As a volunteer in Vodopich’s class, she helps with a variety of projects including teaching cursive.
Tara said Vodopich noticed her cursive handwriting and asked it she would like to teach it as time allowed. Tara said she was delighted to give it a try. They decided to poll the students to determine who would learn cursive and to their surprise, every hand in the classroom went up.
“With that kind of enthusiasm, it was hard to resist,” Tara said.
In addition to working with the students, Tara said she enjoys her time with Vodopich.
“She is a wonderful, creative, bright educator who makes learning interesting and fun especially through her creative art skills and abilities,” Tara said.
Volunteer with Bellingham Public Schools
If you are interested in volunteering, visit our Volunteer Program to learn more about opportunities, or call Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Gaer at 360-647-6848.