Enhancing AMPED and Geometry in Construction with Volunteers

Operating programs like Geometry in Construction and AMPED will keep teachers busy. Several years ago, we stumbled upon using volunteers.  If you have not already, maybe it is time to enlist volunteers to work with students in the shop or on the build site.  Below you will find a summary of what we have learned and how we hope to expand volunteer usage in the future.
Types of volunteers we use.
Short term, we use volunteers to work with students in the specialty areas such as electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc.  We have companies that will work alongside our students in small groups of 4 – 8 students.  Usually this is a 2 – 4 day commitment each year.  Our students enjoy watching, working, and learning from “non-teachers”.  The technicians share a great amount of knowledge as well as talk about the career paths available.  In these situations, we hand select students with interest in that particular career path, who have good work habits, and/or who have interest in learning that “trade” in more detail.  In AMPED, we have had success in bringing in people to work with students in the lab when we first introduce a piece of software/equipment.  We hope to expand this even more in the AMPED lab.  Most of the short term volunteers are found through parent conferences/emails.
Long term volunteers are equally as critical to a successful program.  These are volunteers that commit for a longer amount of time and will work with 4 – 8 students at a time.  One of our volunteers, Ben, has been with us for 7 years.   He started volunteering as a Habitat for Humanity family helper.  Once the home was completed for the Habitat family, he stayed on.  We have been fortunate in that for 9 of the last 12 years of doing the Geometry in Construction program, we have had 1 – 2 volunteers the majority of the build times.  We are just now learning to bring in long term volunteers into the AMPED program with hopes of expanding.

How do we find volunteers?

  1. We recruit at parent/teacher conferences, back to school night, emails, etc. Be sure to recruit not just parents but grandparents….they have a much more flexible schedule.  Many of our short-term volunteers will be parents who own companies or who work for companies that do that type of work.  The long-term volunteers are the ones who are retired and want to participate/give back to their community.  Grandparents are welcomed by students (even by their own grandchild).  An idea we are kicking around is to have a grandparent/family friend/aunt/uncle day early in the year complete with refreshments.  We want the students to invite their family members to show off what they are planning to build, and then we would provide opportunities for them to volunteer.
  2. Retired teachers are another resource. Though limited in number, we have had success with bringing in retired teachers.  Some have extensive knowledge in shop equipment, 3D printing, etc. and have been valuable in the AMPED class.
  3. Other places to look for volunteers include your church, senior center, advertisement in the local paper and the national organization: Volunteers of America.  In our area, seniors can work off a portion of their property tax by volunteering at school which provides another avenue of volunteers.

Why would a person be a volunteer?

For some it is being around kids.  Kids keep us young.  They help because they believe in what the program (GIC/AMPED) does for the students.  They want/need to have a reason to get up and get dressed in the morning.  They enjoy being needed.  They enjoy the relationships they develop when working with small groups of students.  They enjoy the relationships they develop with the teachers and other volunteers.  They enjoy learning new skills.  If willing, we will teach volunteers a new skill like siding or wood turning.  They will then have the responsibility to teach students these new skills.  We always offer the volunteers an opportunity to learn something new or to improve on a skill they currently possess.

What are the qualities of a good volunteer?

  • Willingness to be around students. Some volunteers are fearful of teenagers until they are around them for a while.
  • They have a coaching mentality not be an authority figure. Our volunteers are not the discipline dispensers, the teachers are.
  • A DIY attitude helps. They possess some skill or are willing to learn new skills.
  • A willingness to do a variety of tasks that they are comfortable with and are physically able to do.
  • A willingness to stay with a task (even if it is boring) for consistency for the students.

How teachers can make the experience great for the volunteers?

  • Happy volunteers continue to volunteer so make the experience a good one.
  • Teachers need to protect the volunteers from uncomfortable situations. This includes those especially difficult students and tasks that are beyond their skill set.  Talk with the students about being courteous to the volunteer.  Help students understand their crude language can offend volunteers and that the volunteer is there to help.
  • Arrange a work schedule that is good for the volunteer. Some will want to work certain days of the week or certain times of the day.  Other volunteers may be available certain times of the school year.
  • Once a volunteer is established, let them know how appreciated they are. Encourage students to express their thanks to the volunteer.

Hopefully, you too can find a few good people who are willing and available.  Our experience is your program and your students will benefit greatly.