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A change in the air

How Experience Corps. is making a difference in public schools

Medfield Heights Elementary School is a public school in Baltimore that has seen a great change since implementing the Experience Corps. program last year.

"The presence of the Experience Corps. makes a difference over the total learning community," said Debbie Thomas, principal of Medfield Heights Elementary.

Experience Corps. is a program that places senior citizens in Baltimore Public School classrooms. It is a joint venture between Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Public Schools, and the Greater Homewood Community Corporation.

Thomas says that the Experience Corps. volunteers provide the teachers a great deal of help in the classrooms and allow them a freedom to teach.

"They give one-on-one attention to students and fill in the gap the teachers may not have time to give," said Thomas.

Megan McLaughlin-Corey, a first grade teacher Medfield Heights, says that the Experience Corps. volunteers help provide the one-on-one time that slower learning children need that often can’t be given in oversized classes by the teacher.

"I’ve never been without an Experience Corps. volunteer in my classroom and I don’t ever want to be," said McLaughlin-Corey.

Walk through the halls of Medfield Heights at anytime during the day and you can see examples of what an impact Experience Corps. has made. Peaking into a classroom you can see one of the senior citizens reading quietly with one of the younger children. You’ll see young and old walking hand-in-hand as the volunteer helps a young child to the bathroom. In the lunch room the volunteers help keep children orderly and clean.

"It’s nothing but sunshine here and a warmth that is so magnified that you can’t help but feel it when you walk through the door," says Thomas. "The boys and girls of Medfield Heights Elementary love the Experience Corps. members."

The Experience Corps. members love the children too. Thomas said that one volunteer came to school all summer long to help a child in summer school who she had formed a relationship with.

Today you can see the same child with his experience Corps. volunteer walking down the hall together. She holds his hand and he carries her cane like a little gentleman. The child and the volunteer have huge smiles on their faces.

Thomas also says the differences the volunteers make are seen in the numbers.

"Our attendance has improved because the children want to come and see their Experience Corps. helpers," said Thomas. "My office referrals for the primary grades are also zero. That’s Experience Corps.’ work."

Experience also provides children with an opportunity to meet and work with senior citizens. This is something that Thomas says many of the children’s home lives don’t afford them.

Medfield Heights Elementary School is one of the six public schools in Baltimore with the Experience Corps. program and it has made a difference.

"We moved from getting to know each other to being a team and now to being a family," said Thomas.

"If (my volunteer) Mr. Todd didn’t come in we would be worried about him and call to make sure he was all right," said McLaughlin-Corey.

The program has worked so well that the mayor plans to take it citywide and Thomas thinks it is a great idea. "I wouldn’t want to keep this wonderful program to myself."

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