Heather Aschoff, a self-described “volunteerer,” has landed in a job that fits her to a tee. The Rufus King graduate was recently selected as Milwaukee Public Schools’ volunteer coordinator. Once a volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Aschoff knows first hand the positive impact volunteers can have on kids.
“As an MPS student, I remember volunteers always being in the classroom. When I learned about this position I thought, ‘that needs to keep happening,’” Aschoff said.
The new position was created by MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton, according to Denise Callaway, business and community partnerships coordinator at MPS. Based on his experience in other school districts, Thornton sees volunteers as a critical component of successful schools, she said.
Having a “one-stop shop” for volunteers makes it easier for parents and community members to get involved. And the position ensures that the district can fix its attention on helping volunteers be successful.
“The volunteers really are very precious to us and we want to make sure we have every opportunity to connect to them and respond to them quickly when they have questions or concerns. We’ve got to have somebody who’s coordinating that work as their focus in order for that to happen,” Callaway said.
Volunteers are important on many levels according to Aschoff and Callaway. In addition to putting additional positive role models in classrooms, caring adults can support children socially, emotionally and intellectually.
“I see the importance in helping kids succeed academically as well as have a good attitude toward their schools. And I think volunteers have the ability to make school a fun place to be. Having volunteers in the classroom gives a more textured education … provides more perspectives, more background …” Aschoff said.
Callaway emphasized the much-needed practical assistance volunteers can bring to teachers and students, “… an extra set of hands that can help us … bring to a little bit higher level the work that we’re doing with kids,” she said.
Initially, Aschoff is concentrating on creating more structured procedures for enrolling volunteers, who must fill out an application and pass an annual background check.
In addition to developing training and a handbook, she is writing volunteer opportunity descriptions, similar to job descriptions, “so that people know what they’re signing up for and that they have guidelines to work within … and everybody knows what they are here to do,” Aschoff said.
The school district’s largest volunteer partnership has been the Interfaith Older Adults’ RSVP program, which matches students with tutors. It includes training for volunteers who commit to a minimum of 90 minutes each week.
Next, Aschoff plans to work on recruitment. Last year MPS had 182 volunteers at 28 elementary schools. With 175 schools in the district (in 2011-12) there is clearly a need for more volunteers.
Sherry Bentz, a retired software developer who tutors math in a fourth-grade classroom at Luther Burbank Elementary School was one of Aschoff’s first volunteer contacts. Bentz was struggling to find a school where she could continue volunteering through the summer when she met Aschoff at an RSVP event. Aschoff set her up to volunteer at Hi-Mount Community School. “The best thing I got out of RSVP might have been meeting Heather,” Bentz said,
Aschoff, who grew up in Washington Heights, brings many personal strengths, as well as her connections and success as a volunteer and staff person at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee, according to Callaway.
“Most importantly, Heather has a true passion for this work. She has a true passion for connecting people who care with needs that we have in the district. And she is always, always keeping that at the forefront of her mind,” Callaway said.