To be a successful student in elementary schools these days is more and more difficult with new high-stakes testing and standards on the way. In Inglewood Unified, students at Oak Street Elementary are learning more than just the basics. Not found in any textbook or curriculum map, students are learning invaluable life lessons through a student volunteer program. Aptly named the Spirit of Service, the program was started two years ago by 6th grade teacher Lena Atutoa. The program puts 6th graders at Oak Street to work as volunteer tutors serving younger students, as student helpers in the cafeteria/playground and as student aides helping teachers in and around classrooms.
“It’s fun because I get to teach other kids how to do their math,” says Grace, a 6th grader and one of the top volunteers this year. She volunteers in the morning as a Safety Patrol, walking kindergartners to their lines, and tutors in both a first grade class as well as a fifth grade class during her lunch time. Grace hopes to beat last year’s top volunteer who worked a whopping 13, 500 plus minutes. That translates into over 227 hours of community service!
Since 2011, upwards of 90 students have served as volunteers, serving many dozens of young learners, many of whom become volunteers themselves when they reach 6th grade. This school year alone, Ms. Atutoa has 31 current volunteers in the 6th grade, and more signing up each day. Each volunteer is issued a Spirit of Service folder which features a calendar to help the volunteers remember the days and times they work in specific classrooms. It also has a service log in which students record the type of activity the helped with, the number of minutes they worked, and a teacher’s signature to verify the service. This folder is collected monthly and recorded in a spreadsheet (yes, by a student volunteer!) which will be used at the end of the year to generate certificates and prizes honoring the volunteers at the 6th grade promotion ceremony. Students and parents alike are very proud when the volunteers’ service hours are announced in front of the entire 6th grade class.
“I am so proud of the sixth graders who choose to become Spirit of Service workers,” said Oak Street Principal Richard Barter. “Volunteering helps them become responsible citizens and instills a sense of duty and pride in our school.”
The program has helped Oak Street build and maintain several essential partnerships with local agencies, companies and universities that are eager to see the program thrive and grow. On Sunday Sept. 15, Atutoa and Barter took 25 volunteers from their program and their parents to the USC/LMU women’s soccer game in Los Angeles. In November, Spirit of Service volunteers will be attending the women’s volleyball game at USC.
“The students had a blast enjoying the game but also meeting with the athletes,” said Atutoa after the LMU game. “They learned about the life of a college athlete and it motivated them to keep volunteering.”
Giving students opportunities to excel and celebrating their successes is a recipe for success at Oak Street School, a high-achieving school with an API score over 800 this year. On Saturday Sept. 21, students who scored advanced and proficient on last year’s state tests will be attending the USC/Utah matchup at the Coliseum.