Schools indebted to volunteers

Mar. 25, 2013 @ 11:03 AM

After Peter Romeyn retired from the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, he found his second calling. Three days a week, he carries his briefcase into Githens Middle School, sets up shop in the media center and presides at a whiteboard for three hours with students who had been struggling with core-level math. Now they eagerly huddle over math problems with his persistent encouragement.

The teachers and staff at Githens said that “he is living his dream and sharing his enthusiasm for learning, and hopefully he will lead us to other such valuable volunteers.” Their praise was persuasive: Peter Romeyn was selected as the fall 2012 winner of the Durham Public Schools “Get Involved!” volunteer award. He personifies the benefits and potential of active community participation in our schools. If only we could clone him.

Peter is not alone, however. Countless individual and organizational volunteers come to our schools in common cause with the teachers and staff that have committed their time and skill to helping all DPS students reach their potential. Volunteers offer key additional support that enhances our standard curriculum. Some, like Peter Romeyn, reinforce our core curriculum through the relationships they build with students needing broad support. Others, such as Fidelity Investments, build lasting partnerships with particular schools in our community. Last week, Fidelity invited 200 Lowe’s Grove Middle School students to their new campus, in partnership with Junior Achievment, to teach them financial literacy.

In gratitude to the hundreds of volunteers that take the time to care for our students and schools, I invite you to help us recognize them through your nominations for the next “Get Involved!” award. We present one award each semester, and we will name the spring 2013 honoree during National Volunteer Week, April 22-26.

Students, parents, DPS staff and community members may all submit nominations online at between March 22 and April 12. We are looking for any individual or organization that has devoted time to our students and schools and made a significant impact, whether through academics, beautification, mentoring, assisting teachers, leading a program or other volunteer activities. Criteria for the award include the amount of time invested in our schools, the role of the nominee (for example, leading a project), and most importantly the type of activity and level of impact on our students. Not every important volunteer activity is directly tied to academics, but our judges among the district volunteer office and other staff will look at how much the nominee has aided in students’ academic preparation.

As professional educators, we are ultimately accountable for our students’ success. As members of the Durham community, we are also indebted to the volunteers and partners that enrich our schools and provide the fresh perspectives that enlighten our students. You give our students hope. You are the embodiment of “One Vision. One Durham.” Thank you for demonstrating to our students, teachers and staff that none of them is alone in our quest for academic excellence.

Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. His column appears the last Tuesday of each month.