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Student volunteers make a difference
Student volunteers make a difference in their community
Posted on 06/12/2018
Student volunteers make a difference in their community

Karshner Elementary sixth-grader Angel Dominguez says he is confident to raise his hand in class and answer math questions — because he knows the answers.

Dominguez is one of 25 Karshner students who spend every Tuesday after school with volunteer math tutors from Puyallup High School. He has been practicing his skills with senior Michelina Luong for the past three years. He says it helps him improve his grades, and he is no longer nervous to participate in class.

Karshner studentLuong, who plans to attend the University of Washington in the fall, says working with Dominguez and volunteering in the community helps her interact and socialize with the public and build connections. “I like teaching the kids to learn as much as they can and knowing you can help someone,” she says.

The math tutors are one example of many Puyallup School District students in grades 7 through 12 who volunteer in the community to help others. They serve in local food banks, health care facilities, youth sports programs, local churches, charitable organizations, schools, as camp counselors, and more.

In 2016 the Puyallup School District created the Varsity Letter in Volunteer Service to provide more opportunities for students and to create a culture of service in Puyallup. They receive the same school letter earned by athletes and musicians. More than 100 students have earned a volunteer letter this year.

To receive a varsity letter students are required to volunteer at least 150 hours. Some earn multiple letters with hundreds of hours spent serving others. They document their community service through pictures and video and complete a portfolio, which includes a 250-500 word reflection of their community service. The portfolio is submitted for review and approval. The community service hours earned can also be used for the senior project requirements.

Director of Instructional Leadership Tracy Pitzer, who oversees the program, says, “The portfolios are so touching. Our students are just doing amazing things. Research shows when kids are involved in community service and activism they tend to be more successful in life, regardless of other factors such as grades or family income. This is good for the students and good for the community.”

Emerald Ridge
Emerald Ridge senior Angel Dailey volunteers with Special Olympics, in a classroom, and at his church. He received a volunteer varsity letter last January. Dailey says he most enjoys interacting with the students and hopes to be a role model. He plans to attend UW Tacoma next year and major in psychiatry.

Many students find leadership and volunteer opportunities through the Communities in Schools Puyallup (CISP) March Gladness program. Every January through March, schools throughout the district develop and carry out projects that benefit the community. The vision of March Gladness is to encourage students to make community service a part of their lives.

Puyallup High senior Ethan Graham has logged more than 700 hours volunteering through CISP school supply drives, at St. Francis House, vacation Bible school, Unified Basketball, high school football camp, and many more activities.

“Volunteering has definitely enhanced my life because it has opened my eyes as to needs that I could’ve so easily not seen going about my everyday life, school, friends, football, and track. There are so many needs everywhere and we are all too busy to help unless we make it a priority. I see how blessed I am in my life and want to share the one thing I can — and that is my time,” says Graham.

Pitzer said the younger students begin volunteer service by participating in a variety of projects. By the time they are juniors or seniors they become more focused – ‘I know this is my calling.’  The goal is to see them carry the culture of volunteer service into adulthood.

SophiaPuyallup High senior Sophia Beamish is an example of a student who began volunteering in junior high at Aylen and as a result of volunteering through the years now has a career path in mind when she attends the University of Washington in the fall. She volunteered through Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) at Puyallup High helping with blood drives and in the Multicare Children’s Therapy Unit at Good Samaritan Hospital.  She has also volunteered in the Palliative Care Unit at Good Samaritan helping nurses, doctors, and patients. She plans to attend the University of Washington next year and will major in biology with the goal of becoming a doctor in pediatrics.

Beamish says she will continue volunteer service in college. “It’s a really cool way to network and meet others. I’ve met a lot of my close friends through volunteering, and it helps you gain connections and experience things you maybe wouldn’t otherwise.”

Pitzer says the Varsity Letter in Volunteer Service removes barriers and enhances the student’s education by letting them choose where they will serve others in the community. “That has been really successful. It puts the kids in the driver’s seat in terms of their own service. One of the things about pushing a higher level of learning is having students set their own goals and drive their life. It helps us move the classroom beyond the four walls,” she said.

Students earning their Varsity Letter in Volunteer Service are recognized by the Puyallup School Board of Directors two times a year. If a student completes 150 hours of service and a portfolio within the first semester, that student is eligible to earn another varsity letter in volunteer service the next semester.

“The things that these students are doing for our community really should be celebrated. They are very outward focused. They ask ‘How can I make the world a better place?’ It makes me hopeful.”
Director of Student Learning Tracy Pitzer

Nancy French