You don’t have to be a parent or an adult to volunteer and make a difference in local schools – that’s the belief of leaders at Smithfield Elementary School and the reason why they joined with students from neighboring Quail Hollow Middle School.
Falcon Leaders, a program that has been around for more than five years, is a partnership between Smithfield and Quail Hollow that allows middle school students willing to lend a helping hand have a safe place to go in the mornings before school starts. The program has specifically taken off this year, showing more success than years past thanks to the push for more teamwork between the two campuses.
While Smithfield staff and students start their days at 7:45 a.m., Quail Hollow doesn’t open its doors for students until 8:45 a.m., with classes starting at 9:15 a.m. For those students looking to get some extra hours of volunteer service for clubs like the National Junior Honor Society or other students with working parents who need a place to go before school starts, Falcon Leaders can be a perfect fit.
“It’s a safe place,” Suzy Owners, a parent with kids at both Smithfield and Quail Hollow, said. “It helps and serves each (Quail Hollow) student differently, but they are all here for the same reason.”
More than 35 middle school students currently participate in the Falcon Leaders program, serving as teacher’s assistants or aides, working in the school’s media center and library or doing clerical work in Smithfield’s front office. A majority of the students previously attended Smithfield, but Owens said program leaders are hoping to encourage more Quail Hollow students that hail from other filter schools to get involved, too.
Owens has already started talking with administration at Quail Hollow to get more publicity for the program and has encouraged current Falcon Leaders to invite a friend for next semester’s sign ups. The students can commit from one morning a week to every morning a week, or whatever suits their schedule best.
But an important part of the program is that it’s open to any and every Quail Hollow student, and Falcon Leaders have a chance to become role models for elementary school students.
“It’s just an opportunity for them to shine,” Jill Trotter, assistant principal at Smithfield, said. “It doesn’t matter how you perform academically or anything. They are movie stars here – the confidence that this program can offer some kids – and it’s a great way to start their day. It really is like a big brother, big sister program with these kids.”
Trotter sent out a call for teachers who needed some additional help in the mornings at the beginning of the semester. The slots fill up fast, Trotter said, and there are still a list of teachers who would love to have a Falcon Leader in their classroom, but don’t. Currently, Falcon Leaders are contributing about 60 hours a week of extra volunteer service hours to Smithfield. That’s more than 500 hours since this semester’s program started Oct. 5.
“It provides an extra person in our classrooms,” Trotter said, adding the extra hands help alleviate some of the pressure teachers face. “Just that one-on-one attention with a child – that’s what every teacher wants to be able to do with their classes. It makes so much difference in the classroom.”
“The program also eases the need for parents that are already maxed out and can’t volunteer,” Owens added. “So it helps the parents out, too.”
The partnership is so strong this year that Owens and Trotter have worked together to provide more curriculum-based learning to the program for the middle school students, encouraging students to keep the passion for helping and teaching character education. The group meets monthly, in addition to their morning service slots, to reflect on their experiences. The students gave back in another way last week, each donating a gently used or new book to be given as a Christmas gift to the classrooms they serve.
The books will be distributed on Friday, Dec. 20, to the classrooms, just in time for Smithfield’s read-in day.
“We appreciate these volunteers for whatever they give,” Trotter said.