Make a Difference by Volunteering at Your Local School

Our public schools are shaping the lives of our kids and the future of our commonwealth, and the teachers and school administrators in these schools step-up for Kentuckians daily.

Yet, over the last several years, the education community has shouldered the blame for many of society’s ills and have even become political punching bags. These attacks have interrupted school board meetings, fueled bad legislation and are now commonplace online.

None of this sits well with me.

I decided the solution to this negativity was to get involved and to make a difference by shining a light on the good that happens in our schools every day.

During the past month, I did something simple yet impactful: I volunteered at schools across the commonwealth. From elementary schools in our largest city to independent high schools in rural Kentucky, I showed up and asked how I could help. The teachers, principals and district leaders were surprised when I told them I wanted them to put me to work.

And they did! I rang up students in the lunch line at Ludlow Independent School’s cafeteria in Northern Kentucky. I ran a literacy station in a classroom at Dishman-McGinnis Elementary in Bowling Green, where 15 languages are spoken, and led a math learning center at Portland Elementary in Louisville. When I arrived at Somerset High School, the guidance counselor and assistant principal were serving lunch to students as they finished taking the ACT – so I put on gloves and jumped in to help.

The experience I had was as heart-warming as the stories I heard along the way.

At Ludlow, I met a lady who, after retiring from 40 years at the school, came back to work because they could not find a replacement. The staff she supports has so much respect for her life’s work, and the kids she serves are happy to see her. Ms. Phyllis is one tough cookie.

I met a kindergarten teacher in the same building who is battling cancer. She kept working because her class lost their teacher’s aide earlier in the school year. She knew her students needed stability, but it was obvious that Jen got just as much from her students as she gave.

At Cardinal Valley Elementary, I helped Carmen, the FRYSC coordinator, deliver student meals for the Backpack Program. In the process, I met Viridiana, who was once a student at the school and who chose to return so she could serve her community from the classroom. I helped the principal, Mr. Disney, do the familiar work of cleaning lunch tables in the cafeteria between classes (which I used to do every day as an assistant principal).

And that is just the tip of the iceberg – because Kentucky’s public schools are special places filled with good people who are called to do hard, meaningful work. It takes a servant’s heart to build a better tomorrow, one child at a time. Our schools need our help.

The school staff shortage began when politicians verbally attacked and publicly disrespected educators, and it has ballooned to a critical mass thanks to the pandemic, bad legislation and a budget drawn by the General Assembly, full of pay raises for even themselves…yet, excluding raises for teachers.

So my question to you is this: Will you roll up your sleeves and get to work?

I plan to continue this work, and I ask you to show up with me. Contact your local school and see how you can help. Maybe you can sign up to be a substitute teacher or bus driver. Or, commit an hour a week to volunteer in the front office, classroom, library or cafeteria. Offer to tutor or mentor a kid who could use a positive role model. The opportunities are endless, and I promise that your efforts won’t just be noticed, they’ll make a difference.

—Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman

JT Henderson
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