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Inside DPS: Faces of Volunteers Tell the Real Story

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Ann Crowley is the kind of teacher and teaching professional that the distance she will go to assist children isn't likely to surprise anyone who has met her. But even by her high standards and buffered by some advance notices, it was a sight to make you stop and take a deep breath on the first morning of DPS' new Holiday Learning Fest at Beard Early Childhood Center this week.

She, along with co-Teacher In Charge Ifetayo Karamoke, had assembled everyone from the former State Superintendent of Public Instruction (thank you, Tom Watkins, for coming to DPS), to Ann's daughter, along with Reading Corps, CityYear Detroit, teachers, the Principal, family, friends and community members to cover the six-day, four-hours-per-day academic support and remediation program that also provides meals, parental workshops and immunizations at this and a couple of dozen sites across the city this holiday season.

And while it's tempting, and deserving, to blog further just about this one committed educator, the scenes assembled by the teacher leaders at all the other school sites were undoubtedly similar... some 150 Reading Corps, Business Corps, other corporate or community volunteers, representatives from community, higher education, elsewhere who stepped forward for some holiday season service in a new form. If a tweet quoting a Harms Elementary School dad was any indication, the resulting program was and is a big hit: "I bought games&toys 4 Christmas but my daughter wants 2B here @ Harms!"

The comments from Beard School volunteers (posted along with other HolidayFest tidbits here) spoke of being cheered to spend the holiday in the company of other members of the community and in the spirit of the large grins on most of the pupils' faces. However if you were there, you saw in their eyes more than the spirit of giving; in fact, on their faces they wore a true sense of making the world a better place... if not the world, then at least this short block of Waterman Ave. alongside southbound I-75 in southwest Detroit.

Roy Roberts has said, and I have long believed, that Service should be conducted as if the future survival of our nation and our community are dependent upon it. Many talk about the need to "give back," to provide something to the city or community which helped raise them. That's a noble goal. But service should be viewed as an opportunity to change the world, or at least your part of it. I think these volunteers at Beard got it.

Overall, volunteerism is kind of like parental involvement in Detroit Public Schools. On the one hand, too many paint that one broad stroke that there is no meaningful family or community in these schools, which is so wrong given the ever increasing numbers of parents entering the schools (see Dec. 12th blog entry, "What Does Parental Involvement In A Big City School District Really Look Like?"), and the roster for such organized endeavors such as the Reading Corps (1,200+ citizens) and the Business Corps (some 200 strong in less than 11 months). On the other hand, we have a long, long way to go and can never be in a position to believe that there's such a thing as too much parent or volunteer involvement.

Look a Reading Corps volunteer in the face, or catch the grin on Tom Watkins' cheeks, or see that familiar red CityYear jacket, or stumble upon the dozens of Quicken Loans staff who have adopted Chrysler School, now or at any time in a Detroit Public School, and you might catch the volunteer fever yourself. It's not too late, even, to join in Week 2 of the Holiday Learning Fest. Email parent.engagement@detroitk12.org if you're interested in that.

To learn more or to become a Reading Corps tutor, to sign your business up for Biz Corps, or for that matter to get involved with alumni activities, the DPS Foundation, the citizen patrol groups, go to detroitk12.org and click on the "Get Involved" tab.

Your service will indeed change Detroit's world.