While the schools are being more careful about access to students and classrooms, they could use more volunteers. That is the point behind the Bulloch County Schools' new volunteer protocol, explained as part of Thursday night's Speak Up for Education event.
Dr. Deborah Mangum, executive director of the school system's Office of Student Support, led in developing the protocol, which was presented to the Board of Education in November and put into effect by administrators in January. The protocol, a set of rules and guidelines, recognizes three levels of school volunteers: Level 1, the Visitor Volunteer; Level 2, the Committed Volunteer; and Level 3, the Dedicated Volunteer.
Only Level 3 volunteers, those with in "frequent, direct and close interactions with students," are required to be fingerprinted and undergo a law enforcement background check. Volunteers at this level include mentors, tutors, club sponsors and chaperones for overnight field trips.
"This is the first year that we have actually had a volunteer protocol in place," Mangum said. "We enacted this in January after many, many, many meetings and revisions. Keep in mind now, it is not a perfect product, but we've got to get started somewhere like we do with anything else."
She was speaking to the first of three groups of parents and other community members who sat down in the Statesboro High School classroom where she made her presentation. Moving from classroom to classroom like students, Speak Up for Education participants chose up to three half-hour sessions from a total of six topical presentations and a superintendent's listening session.
Under the new protocol, each of the 15 schools has a volunteer coordinator, usually an assistant principal, Mangum explained. All volunteers are required to contact the volunteer coordinator at the school of their choice and complete a volunteer information form. All, regardless of their level of volunteering, are required to work with the coordinator to identify appropriate activities and schedule the date and time of school visits.
Besides being cleared in a background check, Level 3 volunteers must provide a profile that describes the services offered by the individual volunteer or organization. This step is not required of Level 2 or Level 1 volunteers.
But Level 2 "committed" volunteers are also required to schedule an orientation session, a school tour and a review of information with the volunteer coordinator, just as Level 3 "dedicated" volunteers must do. The orientation session, tour and information review are optional for Level 1 "visitor" volunteers.
Level 1 volunteers are those with limited availability, indirect student interactions and infrequent student contact. Examples cited in Mangum's chart include booster clubs and parent-teacher organizations, adults helping with concession sales and book fairs, off-campus volunteers, volunteers who help with classroom parties or assist in a school's office, and speakers and presenters.
Level 2 volunteers are those with "moderate availability" but "increased interactions with students" including working with small groups of students under a teacher or staff member's direct supervision. Examples include clerical volunteers, lunch buddies, classroom parents and adults who help with a field day.
Mangum talked to community members at Speak Up about other expectations of volunteers, such as dressing appropriately, showing up when scheduled and maintaining confidentiality.
"When you come to work in our schools, we trust you to keep confidential information just that, confidential, because you don't want people going out talking about your children and their issues, and so we ask the same of you," she said.
None of this was meant to discourage volunteers. On the contrary, volunteering is encouraged under the Bulloch County Schools' strategic plan, where the second objective is to "increase stakeholder and community involvement," Mangum noted.
"These are our children, this is our community, and the approach that we are taking is, we want to work together with our community, and we need you," he said.
Responding to a question, she talked about the REACH Scholarship program as an example of areas where volunteers are needed.
Funded locally by the Bulloch County Foundation for Public School Education, the program here admitted its first REACH scholars as eighth-graders in 2013. When they graduate this May, they should have $20,000 each to fund their college educations, according to information on the school system's website. More than 50 colleges and universities statewide currently match, partially match or in some cases double-match the $10,000 REACH scholarships, according to a list on the REACH Georgia website.
Having selected usually five more students each year and after one transferred from a neighboring county, the Bulloch County Schools now have 26 REACH scholars in eighth through 12th grades, Magnum said. The program provides a boost to college for students of limited financial means who may be the first in their families to go.
The students are required to meet expectations for grades, behavior and attendance, and program leaders are now adding a component for student volunteering, she said.
"We have been beating the bushes looking for people to mentor those students and also to volunteer as academic coaches for those students," said Mangum, who coordinates the local REACH.
In particular, she is looking "for people who want to go the whole four years with these students" mentoring them through high school, she said, adding, "It is a commitment."
Marlisa Andrews, mother of a William James Middle School student who will arrive at Statesboro High next year and also of a college student, said she learned something during this session.
"They're very open now as far as trying to bring the volunteers back, so I'm going to try to spread the word to get some folks to come in and help some of the students and help out where it's needed," Andrews said.
College & Careers
She was also interested in the "High School: College and Career Ready" presentation, one of the most popular. More than 30 people packed the room for the second session, when a Spanish-language translator was available.
Statesboro High dual enrollment counselor Tiffany Weathers noted opportunities for students to earn simultaneous high school and college credits tuition-free, and military science teacher Lt. Col. Eric Heffner talked about JRTOC. Work-based learning coordinator Margot Bragg drew parents' enthusiastic comments in English and Spanish when she noted the hourly wages some 11th- and 12th-graders are earning in jobs with the school system's industry partners such as Briggs & Stratton.
Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson's third listening session of the evening also went bilingual. Board of Education members sat among parents in the media center, where he answered questions about school security and other concerns.
But only 107 adults signed in for the annual Speak Up event meant for the entire 10,600-student school system. Held in March instead of January, this year's forum conflicted with Holy Week activities and spring athletics for some families, acknowledged Hayley Greene, Bulloch County Schools public relations and marketing specialist.
Some people also prefer staying in touch with the schools through digital means, she observed.
"But for us it's valuable to have that face-to-face conversation with parents," Greene said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.