, Salem, MA

Local News

January 15, 2014

Making a difference

Salem schools reach out to adult volunteers in city and beyond

SALEM — During her inauguration this month at Collins Middle School, Mayor Kim Driscoll made an appeal on behalf of the public schools, which are working hard to remove the stigma of a Level 4 designation given to Salem in 2011 as one of the state’s under-performing districts.

“We are gathered here in this place for a reason,” Driscoll said. “To signify to all, with unmistakable clarity, that our primary focus in the years to come will be ... Salem’s public schools.

“And this charge is not simply for our School Committee and school leaders. We must all together devote ourselves to this end. This is a community mission.”

Although there has been community involvement since the public schools got the Level 4 designation two years ago, the focus sharpened last fall when the School Department hired its first community volunteer coordinator.

From a small office in Collins Middle School, Yvonne van Bodengraven has been recruiting volunteers to help in a school system with many children from low-income families and homes where English is not the first language.

A key focus of the turnaround plan is raising MCAS scores, but van Bodengraven’s mission is broader — which is why her door is open wide.

“I’m looking for anyone who wants to give a hand,” she said. “Any amount of time, any skills ... anything someone has to offer.”

If someone contacts her, van Bodengraven said she will match the person with a volunteer role.

Van Bodengraven has been to PTO meetings, ice cream socials, a Salem Partnership meeting, a citizenship ceremony at the Bentley School, a senior center luncheon and other events to spread the work about the need for school volunteers.

In a few months, she has signed up 20 volunteers who have pledged to give a few hours each week. They range in age from 22 to 90 and are doing tasks as varied as working one-on-one with children in classrooms to making math playing cards for a class. One home-bound volunteer assembled a scrapbook of school photos. A retired teacher is mentoring a new teacher.

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