Berkeley Schools Volunteers: Changing the World, One Classroom at a Time

They are the hidden superheroes of Berkeley. Compelled by vision, unwavering in their commitment, and fueled by love; these superheroes serve our city selflessly, week after week, year after year. They wear no cape, but are recognizable by a red and white badge; they are the Berkeley Schools Volunteers.

For almost three decades, Berkeley Schools Volunteers (BSV), a signature program of the Berkeley Public Schools Fund, has been recruiting, training, and connecting community members to public school classrooms across the city. BSV volunteers support learning from pre-K to high school, and even in the adult school. They listen to students read, lead math games, and assist in science labs and gardens. They ask questions, model solutions, and share stories from their lives. Over the weeks and months, BSV volunteers become part of the fabric of the classroom.

This past spring, BSV brought in new leadership with the hire of Duffy Ross as Director of Programs to strategically redesign and relaunch a stronger, more impactful volunteer program for the 2019-2020 school year. “We are unveiling a radical expansion of offerings for our community volunteers,” explains Ross, a former classroom teacher and instructional coach.  “We’re building a Learning Community – a place where volunteers can connect with experts and fine-tune their teaching skills. Our trainings will dive into content areas, like Common Core Math – which looks so different from the math many of us grew up with! – or social-emotional topics, like how to work effectively across differences in support of Berkeley’s most vulnerable students.”

BSV is also excited to be opening up its Learning Community to parent volunteers from school sites for the first time. “As partners in students’ learning, we have to be learners ourselves!” says Ross. “So whether you’re a student, a parent, a working professional or a retired community member, BSV will have a learning opportunity for you!”

Teachers have a unique perspective on classroom volunteers. Geeta Makhija, a math intervention educator at King Middle school reflects on the importance of her years working with Taeko Okamura, a long-time BSV volunteer and retired teacher. “Mrs. Okamura helps focus our students, checks-in with individuals and supports students one-on-one. She creates relationships, getting to know them, asking about their lives, and motivating them to do well.”

While classroom volunteers make it their job to show up for others, they’ll be the first to admit that they receive plenty in return. “Working with kids is important,” explains Jim McGrath, a long-time BSV volunteer.  “It’s about as life-affirming a thing as you can do!” Tocosa Onea, a Washington Elementary volunteer, agrees. “I’m valued by the people I serve,” says Onea. “I look forward to my volunteer assignments. It is a great living experience of the cycle of giving and receiving. I give some of my good and receive from their good in return.”

Berkeley Schools Volunteers is actively recruiting classroom volunteers for the 2019-20 school year. “We welcome people from all walks of life,” says Ross, “as we aim to reflect the rich diversity of the Berkeley community. But what unites our volunteers is their unfailing belief in public schools, their commitment to giving back, and their love of kids.” And as Berkeley Schools Volunteers likes to say, “none of us can give everything, but all of us can give something.”

Join BSV and step into your own inner superhero.

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