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All Hands on Deck!

How one Changemaker School leverages every community member’s talents to support its students.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

September 15, 2013

Bridport Central School, a recently elected Ashoka Changemaker School, does not have a very large student population, but since 48 of the 80 children attending the school receive free or reduced-price lunch, Bridport Central needs a lot of community support. With the help of Middlebury College, an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, Principal and Change Leader Kathleen Kilbourne found a creative way to pair every person in Bridport, Vermont, with a volunteer opportunity at the school.

Drawing on her experience as a state leader in parent education and engagement, Kilbourne knew that involving parents in life at Bridport Central would result in positive academic, social, and emotional outcomes for students. She had also learned that for decades, local parents had felt alienated or excluded from Bridport Central because they had negative school experiences there. In an effort to help the parents and community members feel connected to the school, Kilbourne worked with Middlebury Student Leah Kepping to create a volunteer manual and directory. This involved creating a survey that included questions about time, talents, and interest areas, which was sent to every taxpayer in the town. In drafting these questions, Kilbourne emphasized that every talent – from tutoring children to changing the oil on the school buses – was equally important and useful to Bridport Central.

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The results of the surveys were organized into a volunteer manual, which every teacher at Bridport Central could use. Now, whenever a specific need arose, teachers could call someone who specifically offered skills that are relevant to that need. For example, on the day of Bridport Central’s Iron Chef competition, two volunteers called in sick. Kilbourne used the manual to identify the volunteers who were interested in cooking, and she succeeded in finding replacement volunteers right away.

Creating a volunteer manual is a simple way for schools to engage parents and volunteers in opportunities that are interesting and relevant to them. As your school year gets under way, consider creating a volunteer manual for your school community too!