The volunteers from New Charlotte Church crowded the library at Greenway Park Elementary -- and they're only one of 17 groups supporting the southeast Charlotte school. On Tuesday, when Superintendent Heath Morrison invited reporters to the school to showcase partnerships, the church volunteers were distributing new coats and shoes to every student.
|Kindergartners get shoes and coats|
Paula Rao said she inherited half a dozen partnerships when she became principal at Greenway Park last year. She sought out others -- for instance, asking residents of Carriage Club, a nearby retirement community, to volunteer as reading buddies -- and other groups came to her. When a school welcomes volunteers and puts them to good use, "it's kind of a snowball effect," Rao said.
New Charlotte Church alone has provided books, food, school supplies and clothing for students (more than three-quarters of the roughly 600 kids come from low-income homes). Volunteers read with children and provide support to the faculty.
When former Superintendent Peter Gorman launched his own partnership push about six years ago, he talked about finding ways to measure the academic benefit of volunteer efforts. That never materialized, and Morrison said he's not sure it's possible. It's one thing to establish that students are making gains (even that may prove challenging this year, with all the new testing) but another to prove that any one effort caused them. "The direct contribution to increased student performance, that's difficult," Morrison said.
Still, Rao is certain volunteers are making a difference at Greenway Park. One example: After she matched some of her struggling students with mentors, the number of students being sent to the office for discipline problems dropped from 100 a month to 23, she said.
Chris Payne, pastor of New Charlotte Church, didn't seem to feel a need to have numbers attached to the church's work. The church's mission is to change the city, he said, and working with children is a particularly joyful way to do it.
"Each one of us is never more alive than when we serve," Payne said.