Lacey Elementary is one of 14 elementary schools in the North Thurston Public Schools. Its unique layout and design earned it the nickname “The Round School,” and although it is hard for many in the neighborhood to believe, next year the school will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.
This year, Lacey Elementary is home to nearly 490 students in grades K-5. If you are someone who likes to crunch the numbers, you’d soon realize that staff and students at Lacey Elementary are working against the odds every day in terms of demographics, socioeconomic status and other factors used to evaluate probable success. Yet, time after time, they come out on top, including:
- 2008 School of Distinction Award
- 2009 Great School Award
- 2013, 2014, 2015 High Progress Achievement Award
- 2016 KCTS Pathways to Excellence Award
How do they do it? Through the tremendous efforts of their talented staff and volunteers.
Third grade teacher, Travis Reep, speaks to the value of volunteers at his school.
“Parent volunteers are an important part of building a school community. Students are given the opportunity to experience first-hand their own importance each time a caring adult takes the time to invest in them. This is particularly important in a community where it is essential for many adults in our students’ lives to work, limiting the amount of support they receive at home. We know that when we connect a student to a caring adult, the likelihood of emotional and academic success increases.”
Lacey Elementary principals, Sharon McGourty and Gary Culbertson, know this fact well and appreciate their qualified and passionate volunteers. In fact, many of the volunteers at Lacey Elementary are there daily, mentoring, tutoring and connecting with students.
“What makes some volunteers stand out above the rest,” noted kindergarten teacher, Lisa Petrich, “is their consistency. No matter what they have going on in their lives, they are here, and the children notice.”
Here’s a closer look at what motivates and inspires four of Lacey Elementary’s outstanding volunteers:
“It’s an endorphin rush. It feels good to do such a wonderful thing.” – Heather Tassin (PTA Secretary, Volunteer Coordinator, Book Fair Chair, PBIS Parent Representative)
Heather has yet to meet a volunteer role she isn’t willing and able to take on. For nearly a decade, she perfected her time and project management skills working as a clinical researcher, never knowing they would be perfect for her present gig as full-time mom and parent volunteer.
“I began to volunteer because I saw a need. A need that, if fulfilled, would add incredible value and rich experience to my child’s learning environment and experience,” Heather explained. “Most elementary classrooms have 30 students or more per teacher with no assistant. Volunteers increase students’ access to one-on-one support.”
“Volunteering is incredibly rewarding. The smiles and hugs are priceless, but best of all is getting to see the outcome of your work like the kid who doubles their sight word test score after weeks of working on them or the glowing face and hug from the teacher you just helped obtain something they really needed in their classroom.”
Heather emphasizes that it’s not the quantity of time you give that makes the biggest difference, but simply the decision to give your time at all.
“Even if you can only do it once a year, or 10 minutes here and there, or maybe just once a week for something as simple as a special lunch date with the same student, you are making a lasting impact.”
“Honestly, I just show up and go from there. Whatever needs to be done for any staff or any student, I make sure I’m there to do it.” – Jackie Gianacakos (PTA President)
Jackie began her volunteer career the year her son started kindergarten over three years ago.
“My own mother volunteered in my classroom and I wanted to follow suit,” shared Jackie. “Mostly, though, I volunteer because I want my son to know I’ll always be there to support his educational goals and that his education is important to me. Seeing my son light up when I walk into the classroom and constantly hearing how proud he is to have his mom at school is so gratifying.”
Jackie soon realized that volunteering doesn’t just benefit her own family. She immediately saw value in showing all students they are worthy of the best education and they can do anything they set their minds to.
“Being a volunteer for Lacey Elementary has been a joy. Not only do I get the satisfaction of helping and connecting with students who love sharing their educational successes with me, but I get to be available and supportive to the staff as well. Walking down the hallway I hear students say, ‘Hi, Ms. Jackie!’ or whisper with excitement, ‘That’s Ms. Jackie,’ and it feels amazing!”
“There are a lot of reasons why I volunteer, but the biggest thing that keeps me coming back is my kids.” – Trisha Burns (PTA Vice President)
Trisha is usually seen outside the classrooms, with her youngest in tow, working behind the scenes planning PTA events, school fundraisers, working the Book Fair and taking on all the other miscellaneous jobs that arise during the course of a school day.
“When the students see volunteers at school, they are seeing and learning there are other people besides their parents and teachers who care about them and their education and who want to help them be the best they can be,” shared Trisha.
When Trisha was approached to consider the role of PTA Vice President it was just five months after the birth of their fourth child and she was hesitant to join.
“My husband really encouraged me to be part of the PTA and reminded me it would be a great opportunity to meet and interact with other adults,” laughed Trisha. “So, I agreed to join and immediately fell in love with the work. It means a lot to me that kids care and get excited when they see us at school. Watching kids and their families having fun at events makes all the work worth it.”
“Special moments happen nearly every day. It’s a student running up for a hug the moment you walk in the classroom or being surprised with a picture they have drawn for you.” – Lisa Rao
“Lacey Elementary has wonderful teachers that make us feel so comfortable coming in and volunteering. My son has diabetes and ADHD, so my time in classroom began as a mission to attend to his needs. During my time at the school, I formed a close relationship with his teacher and the other children and it naturally progressed into the volunteer work I do today.”
The student connections Lisa has made are lasting and she appreciates the power volunteers have in aiding student success.
“I volunteer because I enjoy working with the students, teachers and other volunteers. I find it rewarding and it’s a wonderful feeling when you see them learn, especially a student who has been struggling.”
“Volunteering has such a positive impact on education,” added Lisa. “There are many students who need the smaller group or the one-on-one support a volunteer can give. It sometimes seems like a small amount of time that you are giving, but in the end, it makes a big impact.”
“Some of my volunteers don’t even have students in my class, they simply understand that they are investing in the lives of our students.” – Cherie Friend (2nd Grade Teacher)
What you give back, you reap the rewards. Volunteers at Lacey Elementary know this. They see every opportunity to connect, raise funds, organize events and make a teacher’s day a little less hectic as a valuable investment in our future. The future not just of our children, but of our community and world as well.
This is part of why Lacey Elementary is thriving: the unmatchable power of their tireless volunteers.