Everyone Benefits from Volunteers Serving Schools Program

Sept. 28, 2017 ~ When Joan Giannola began volunteering in her grandson's classroom eight years ago, she had no idea that she would receive a President's Volunteer Service Award for giving more than 500 hours of her time to students in the 2016-17 school year.

"When I retired I wanted to do something out of the house," Giannola said. "When my grandson started first grade, I learned about Seniors Serving Schools volunteers. I thought it was something I could do because I'd worked with children most of my life."

These days Giannola spends more than five hours each day in Heather Williams' third-grade classroom or Allyson Atchity's first-grade classroom.

"It started with a couple hours once a week and by year two evolved into a daily schedule," said Williams, who taught Giannola's grandson many years ago. "She stayed each year and tries to talk me into spending more time in my room."

Both Williams and Atchity consider the award-winning volunteer to be a key element of their classrooms.

Atchity, whose students call Giannola "Grandma G," says the dedicated volunteer is "the heartbeat of our classroom."

"She is an essential part of our Daily 5 reading time," Atchity said. "She helps students strengthen their time management skills and develop their responsibility and independence. She works with struggling readers and students who struggle with math."

Giannola, a grandmother of seven and former paraeducator, easily builds relationships with students.

"Some children need one-to-one instruction to help them understand the material," she said. "When I work with a child I ask if they understand. I find some are afraid to say they don't know how to do the lesson.

"I tell them to be honest with me and we can keep trying. I'm happy to see them do well on a test of material we worked on together."

Williams noted that Giannola's role has changed over the past eight years the volunteer spent more time in the classroom.

"She's almost like a staff member here," Williams said. "She has taken on more subjects as her time increased. She just loves learning with the students. Joan also tells me all the time 'I can just see it in their faces when they get it.' I love to hear that!"

Giannola is one of more than 630 people who donate their time through the district's Volunteer Serving Schools program (successor to the Seniors Serving Schools and Youth Mentor programs).

"Be a volunteer! The kids need us," Giannola said. "The little time we give them means so much to them. They need to have someone our age to see we care about them. You will get more out of it than you give."

Anyone interested in joining Volunteers Serving Schools is encouraged to contact Pam Wolfe at pwolfenlsc@olatheschools.org or (913) 780-8233.

“Mrs. G does anything and everything,” teacher Heather Williams said. “She helps kids with math, independent work, independent reading, writing, you name it. They love her, count on her, and she is part of our classroom.”

Joan Giannola works with two girls on math

“Volunteers Serving Schools is a fantastic program for everyone involved!” third-grade teacher Heather Williams said. “Joan is dedicated, loves children, loves to see them grow and change, she loves a new challenge each day! I want to be like her when I grow up!”

woman smiles as she watches students

“Our classroom could not run efficiently without Grandma G,” first-grade teacher Allyson Atchity said. “Students look forward to seeing her each day. They know they can go to her with any questions or problems they have. They absolutely love her.”

Photos by Marlene Colgan

girl watches as woman works on math problem
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