Guest Editorial: Adult volunteers in schools improve, inspire students
Guest editorial by Christopher A. Koch, State Superintendent, Illinois State Board of Education; and Charles D. Johnson, Director, Illinois Department on Aging
The Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department on Aging are co-hosting the First Illinois Summit on Aging and Education to get more older adult volunteers in classrooms across our state.
The Sept. 20 summit at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., could not come at a better time. Our school districts are struggling with an unprecedented state fiscal crisis, marked by delayed state payments and reduced local revenue.
At the same time, we are launching statewide comprehensive education reform initiatives, from the implementation of the internationally benchmarked Common Core Learning Standards in Math and English to efforts aimed at turning around our lowest performing schools. We need older adult volunteers more than ever to help students meet these new and more rigorous standards and better prepare for college and careers.
Retired rocket scientists are welcome but not necessary. Such work can be as simple as reading to a first-grader or talking to a high school student during study hall. The extra attention supports students and increases their success. Older adult volunteers discover a new way to serve the community and gain another social outlet.
Just ask Russ Marineau who worked at IBM for more than 30 years and commuted between downtown Chicago and his home in Naperville, Ill., leaving little time for civic work or getting to know his neighbors. Since he retired in 1991, he has volunteered a couple hours a week as a mentor and tutor in Naperville Community Unit School District 203.
â€œIt’s got me more involved in the community than I have ever been,” Marineau said. â€œIt’s a great way to make friends and make a difference.”
Formal studies are just beginning to document what Marineau and other older adult volunteers and students have experienced through such interaction. The volunteer program in the Naperville district recently expanded to incorporate a class in which high school students can pass on some computer skills to the senior volunteers. A plan to give the older adult volunteers access to the district’s wellness program is in the works, providing students with a firsthand look at how good habits can benefit one for life.
Students are now returning to school. We hope older adults will follow. Their presence has the potential to improve student performance and inspire service for generations to come.