As 2010 comes to a close, it's time to start thinking about those good ole New Year's resolutions. I have a proposal for a resolution that I think you will find worth your effort in keeping beyond 2011.
With U.S. students lagging behind their international peers as recent test scores show, and globalization necessitating an increased competitiveness from everyone, now is the time for a nationwide response permeating all levels of society. It's time for some volunteerism a la Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country" call to action.
One thing teachers can't control is what happens from the time their students leave school until the time they come back. Getting students to complete their homework, read assigned texts, review content for exams, and work on projects at home can be major challenges. Many parents are simply too busy trying to make ends meet, or lack the skills necessary to help their children with academic tasks, thus do not.
So... I propose that qualified men and women volunteer their time to help students in their respective cities with their homework. By reinforcing the skills and concepts learned in the classroom, volunteers can help students excel in school and ultimately find success later in life. Beyond academics though, mentoring a young person is beyond rewarding for the mentor. And young people have everything to gain from having positive role models in their lives.
I am extremely fond of a particular student who has great difficulty staying focused in class, and has very low reading, writing, and math skills levels. Needless to say, he is very challenging to teach and does not generally do well in school. He doesn't get along at all with some of his teachers. Knowing about some of the underlying emotional issues my student faces, I spoke to his mother about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She told me that she had already tried enrolling him in the program, but because of a shortage of big brothers, my student wasn't deemed needy enough to get one.
There are so many kids like my student whose lives would be so different if they had the benefit of a positive role model to help them with their studies and, if they are teenagers, get them through perhaps life's toughest stage: adolescence.
My sister and I both grew up in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and are all the better-rounded for it. So I recommend the program based on experience. There are of course other opportunities for helping young people with their schoolwork. If you are in New York City, you must check out the new NYC Service website which brings volunteer opportunities to volunteers. When searching for an opportunity, choose education on the drop down menu. Select an opportunity in the borough of your choice. If you are not in New York, simply google "volunteer" and the name of your city. I have done so with the names of random U.S. cities and there are websites similar to the NYC Service site that pop up.
As we enjoy our friends and family this holiday season, let's also think about moving this country forward by contributing to the development of our young people. Helping a young person strengthen his academic skills and become a well-rounded citizen is as good for you as it is for him. If you are a college student or young professional, volunteering is a great way to build your experience base for your own competitive edge in the career marketplace. My resume is certainly filled with various volunteer experiences. Either way, you will grow and benefit as much as your future mentee will. I guarantee it.
So, what are you waiting for? Use the hyperlinks or start googling "volunteer" and the name of your city right now.
And have a happy new year!