2010-03-05 / Community

A first-hand approach to helping educators

By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

PITCHING IN—Maria Hernandez is just one of the 170 registered parent volunteers who help students and teachers at Mountain Meadows Elementary School in Moorpark. Hernandez works with children in her daughter's kindergarten class, assisting teacher Melinda Sheller with day-to-day activities. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers PITCHING IN—Maria Hernandez is just one of the 170 registered parent volunteers who help students and teachers at Mountain Meadows Elementary School in Moorpark. Hernandez works with children in her daughter's kindergarten class, assisting teacher Melinda Sheller with day-to-day activities. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers Rather than bidding her 5-yearold daughter farewell every morning, Maria Hernandez hops on the school bus with her.

Hernandez is one of 170 registered parent volunteers who contribute their time to support the 20 teachers and 535 students at Mountain Meadows Elementary School in Moorpark. And with an ever-shrinking district budget forcing teachers to do more and more with less and less, their help is as vital now as it’s ever been.

“I love the parent volunteers we have here; without them, we couldn’t do the things that we do,” Mountain Meadows Principal Chris Kelley said.

SUPPORT—From left, parents Linda Schweitzer, Craig Campbell, Joanna Forbes, Maureen Axelrad, Norma Stewart, Maria Hernandez and Michelle Dobbins are all volunteers at Mountain Meadows. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers SUPPORT—From left, parents Linda Schweitzer, Craig Campbell, Joanna Forbes, Maureen Axelrad, Norma Stewart, Maria Hernandez and Michelle Dobbins are all volunteers at Mountain Meadows. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers Hernandez takes the bus to and from school with her daughter Janelly Morales almost every weekday. While there, she works with students in Melinda Sheller’s kindergarten and first-grade combo class.

“I just support teachers 100 percent, so I feel really happy that I’m able to help,” Hernandez said. “By me coming in, the teacher can spend more time focusing on the kids.”

The former preschool teacher quit working in 2006 to devote more time to her three children, two of whom attend Chaparral Middle School. She began to volunteer at Mountain Meadows last fall to help Janelly adjust to kindergarten.

“I always tell my kids, school is like your second family. You need to respect teachers and do whatever you can to help them because you spend the whole day there,” Hernandez said.

Sheller, who this year has 28 students in her class, said Hernandez’s presence in the classroom lessens interruptions and frees up time for small group instruction.

“I feel that I’m much more able to meet the needs of all the kids. If a child is in tears or he needs a Band-Aid, I can send them to Mrs. Hernandez rather than stopping the lesson to take care of it,” Sheller said.

In addition to assisting in the classroom and doing clerical work, Hernandez also helps children with their snacks and supervises activities on the playground.

“She is very helpful with the kindergartners, who have all bonded with her. They all know her and trust her, and they look at her as a second mom because she is very motherly to them,” Sheller said.

The school district eliminated the equivalent of about 40 fulltime teaching positions and 15 fulltime nonteaching jobs to offset $4.1 million in revenue losses in 2009.

In the past at Mountain Meadows, parents mainly helped during field trips and special events, but now they’re doing much more, Kelley said.

The principal, who was a working mother when her children were young, said all parents can chip in, helping teachers with paperwork from home or assisting with fundraising efforts. She referred to a project that had recently been completed by the father of a fourth-grader at the school.

To reduce clutter in crowded classrooms, Doug Fair installed about 400 backpack hooks throughout the school so students could hang their bags outside while they attend class.

“(Fair) is a godsend. Overnight, hooks began to appear outside of classrooms, and before I knew it, the entire school was hooked,” Kelley said.

Fair said he and his daughter Nicole did most of the work on weekends because he wanted to teach her that good deeds are more rewarding when people do them without seeking recognition.

“The best part of this project was my daughter seeing the teachers so happy and nobody knew who did it,” said Fair, who also paid for the supplies.

Kelley said parents involved in the Mountain Meadows Parent-Teacher Association also work hard to raise money for art and music programs and to pay the salaries of a full-time computer technician and a credentialed physical education teacher.

Linda Schweitzer’s efforts in collecting about 2,500 grocery store receipts from shoppers at the Vons supermarket on Tierra Rejada Road last fall fetched about $7,200 for Mountain Meadows.

Schweitzer said she was seeking new ways to help the school without piling extra demands on cash-strapped parents.

“The budget cuts are all I’ve known since I came with my kindergartner, so I found an area that was untouched and found ways to make extra money within it,” said Schweitzer, whose son Alex is in first grade.

Schweitzer and her group of volunteers also collected $5,000 from the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market through a Shop for Schools program that gave local schools $1 for every $20 spent at the Moorpark store between Feb. 1 and March 31, 2009.

Because Mountain Meadows was Southern California’s top fundraising school in the program last year, the school received a $5,000 bonus from Fresh & Easy.

Hernandez, who sees how Moorpark’s teachers are responding to tough financial times, said she’s constantly impressed.

“Even though they’re cutting the budget, teachers are still making things work,” she said.

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