Community Volunteerism Raises Student Engagement

Ninth Grade Success | 08/26/2021

Judith Martinez
Director of Colorado Center for High School Success

More than 55 years of research shows family-school-community partnerships play a pivotal role in improving educational outcomes for children and youth.  The Colorado Department of Education recently released a collection of initiatives from districts and schools about family-community partners for student learning.  The document, titled, “Promising Partnership Practices” outlines four essential elements of effective partnerships, they include: Create an Inclusive Culture; Build Trusting Relationships; Design Capacity Building Opportunities; and Dedicate Necessary Resources. The elements emphasize the importance of community partnerships and volunteerism.

When I think of effective community volunteerism, I think of Sandra Holman, an amazing person who has volunteered with Pueblo School District 60 for 45 years!  Ms. Holman exemplifies what it means to give back to your community.  Her story is shared as part of series on student and community engagement based on the activities and experience of CHSS partner schools in Colorado.

Sandy Holman:  Class of 1967

Community engagement and Creating an Inclusive Culture

Sandra Holman is a South High Colt through and through.  Ms. Holman shared her connection to South High School runs deep.  With a laugh she told me, “I graduated there in 1967, a long time ago.” The words of her principal inspired her to get involved.  She recalls her principal, Mr. Wilkerson, told the students “no matter what, always give back to your school, no matter how you can. And I know I can't do money wise, so I thought the best way I could do it is to be there for the kids and do what I can for the teachers to make their life a bit easier.” 

Assistant Principal, Andrea Bybee, shared Ms. Holman, “Sandy”, was actively involved in the schools her children attended, but primarily has volunteered at South HS. Ms. Bybee further explained that through the years Sandy has “supported our kids, talked to them during lunch, helped with Hearing and Vision Screening, temperature checking, answering phones, helping at sporting events, and served on many district and school accountability committees. She has always been a smiling, cheery face, lending a positive vibe to Colt Nation.”

Community Engagement and Building Trusting Relationships

I had the honor of connecting with Ms. Holman in the spring and heard firsthand what motivates her to volunteer.  Here is an excerpt from my interview with Ms. Holman, which covers our discussion on the importance of volunteering and creating trusting relationships with students through the Champions program. Please see our previous blog about South High School’s effort to ensure that every ninth grade student had a school-based champion during the 2020-21 school year. 

How did you get involved in South High School’s 9th Grade Champions Program?

Sandy:  Well, I was sitting at my desk, which I do every morning, as I take temperatures and sign students in and out, when Ms. Gibson (Student Engagement Coordinator and Ninth Grade Success Team Lead) came down and she was talking to Ms. Bybee (Assistant Principal) about it and how teachers were getting involved in supporting ninth graders. That's how I learned about the program and Ms. Gibson signed me up. I took on three students.

What motivates you to support high school students, especially the ninth graders?

Sandy:  Well, they're just new to the school which is big and they're just not too sure. And I think because they need encouragement - telling them, “you can do this, there's no such thing as failing.”  They need to hear “everybody is capable of getting good grades… everybody is capable of graduation.” They just need a little incentive to get going and to know somebody's there to help.

What do champions do to support 9th grade students?

 I ask them how they're doing, and if there's anything they need, and tell them what I’m there for. So, if they had any problems, I'm there every day, they could come and talk to me or I can help them the best I can, or at least get them to the right person to help them.

Tell me about the box of wishes you made for your 9th graders.

Sandy:  I saw something like it in Women's World and I put it to my own thing.  The box wishes is just a little box with a heart which equals love; a lady bug, which is for luck; a feather, which is for laughter, so you remember to laugh every day; a money bag for prosperity, no matter what you got, you're going to prosper in it; a diploma for wisdom because you are smart and you can do it; and a little teddy bear for friendship. I just put it in a little box with the little sayings on it. And every day, if they get a chance to look at it, they could do it…so they'll get a bit of wisdom or something.

Box of wishes.  Photo courtesy of South High School

What advice do you have for students?

Sandy:  I would like just to let them know that we are there for them. We're not just there to teach them, but we are there to encourage them to know that they can do this. If they're having problems, we're there to direct them to the right people that could help them. We want them to know they are not forgotten. They are part of South High’s family.

What advice do you have for school leaders who might be interested in starting a Champions program?

Sandy:  I think it should be (talked about) more, and let students know the reason why the school is doing it. Have the program not only for ninth graders, but maybe offer it for brand new students that came into the school from another school, or from another state…so they can feel part of whatever is going on at school, and that we're there for them.

Ms. Holman is a one-of-a-kind champion for our students.  Her contributions are inspiring and offer insights on how schools can effectively engage community members.

Resources of Family and Community Engagement:


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