“Volunteering in the Classroom” by Sarah Johnson
September means back to school, and several St. Paul’s parishioners have returned to the classroom for some years now. We work with students who have recently immigrated to Norwalk from Latin America, many with horrific stories of family members they left behind and their own journeys to Norwalk. Most of these students know little English and are in school not only to learn English but also to learn the normal high school curriculum, including math. It is in their math classroom that we have had the honor to help them out, refreshing skills we may not have used for years while helping them to learn about number lines and long division and the Cartesian plane and also helping them improve their English. Lisa, the teacher we work with, is charming, devoted to her trade and her students, and very creative.
In March, we had to stop volunteering as Norwalk schools first closed to all volunteers, then to everyone, and moved to remote learning. In August, we reached out to Lisa to see if we could do anything to help welcome her students back to school, even if we could not do so in person. It turned out that she had a list of supplies that her nineteen students needed to begin the year and that she expected more students as the year progressed.
True to St. Paul’s radical welcome, our volunteers jumped into action to welcome these vulnerable students into their classroom. We supplied Lisa with twenty-five binders, full of looseleaf paper, each with a pencil case filled with a dozen pencils, erasers, a ruler, and highlighters. When Lisa sent the list of first names, we wrote personal notes to welcome each student to this new, bizarre school year. You can see the happy results in the photos.
During this difficult time of loss all around us – of life, of jobs, of companionship, of freedom to travel – being able to do something useful for those in need has been a godsend. To do it with other enthusiastic companions has made it a true joy.
Who knows how long students will be in the classroom this year? What we do know is that these students have a bit less to worry about and know that they are radically welcomed by people they do not yet know. May they feel safe and ready to learn.