CSV volunteer Denise Han feels that the first ten years are when children’s brains are wired to form relationships, crucial for “laying the groundwork…and having someone to be there for them.” As a volunteer teacher’s aide in a kindergarten classroom at the Fletcher-Maynard Academy, Denise is that assistance the students need; she is their mentor.
A 2012 Mack Davis awardee, Denise has volunteered with the same kindergarten teacher, Alison Barr, for the past seven years. She has played many roles, including helping to create a dramatic play area at the back of the classroom and the implementation of two special projects. For the first, the class took a field trip to a local supermarket, where they interacted with staff, discovered different store sections, and learned about various store functions and services. When they returned to the classroom, Denise helped the students create their own supermarket. With drawings and toy food, groups of three to four had a hands-on experience acting as cashiers, bakers, shoppers and more.
The second project focused on learning about veterinary clinics. A veterinary staff member visited the class and discussed the different roles around working with animals. Afterward, students set up their own clinic in the classroom, bringing in props and taking on roles as pet owners, nurses and doctors. The outcome of both projects, Denise noted, was observing how the students seemed to develop more understanding and kindness, both toward people and animals. Moreover, students gained new vocabulary particular to each location and used their math and writing skills in such ways as filling out “registration forms” for pet-owners. The projects facilitated a creative environment for students to exercise their imaginations and problem-solving skills while learning how to work with others.
Denise finds that she has a distinct bond with the students who have been held back in the class, and that they recognize her as the “special person going through this with them.” She crafted a little memento of encouragement that read to the effect of “Try Your Best” for one of her students to hang on her doorknob at the end of the school year. When the student returned the next year, she told Denise how she looked at it all the time and wanted to try her best to improve. “I was very moved,” she said. Another student used to wait eagerly all week long for Denise to appear. “He was very excited…always talking about me coming. I was moved that he had a special place in his heart for me.”
CSV thanks Denise for her seven years of exceptional service to the kindergarten class at the Fletcher-Maynard Academy and looks forward to many more in the years to come.