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NICHD Celebrates 10 Years of Volunteering at School

By Keri-Lyn Wall

NICHD recently was honored by the staff and students of Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring for a 10-year commitment to providing programs that enrich the lives of the school's students.

Through the Partners in Business and Education program, NICHD scientists and administrators have volunteered their time at the school. The partnership is a result of NICHD's equal employment opportunities office's interest in increasing the participation of minorities, women and girls in science. Highland Elementary has a large minority student population, and also was in need of educational resources.

"NICHD is committed to the healthy development of all children," said director Dr. Duane Alexander. "It is important that we support this mission not only through our research initiatives but also through volunteer activities that contribute to the healthy development of children in our own community."

NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander meets with staff and students at Silver Spring's Highland Elementary School, including (from l) Dorothy Reitz, assistant principal; student Oscar Salazar; Kristen Raymond, a third-grade teacher; student Matthew Downs; and Kitty Hollister, PTA president.

Although NICHD has been leading national research efforts to understand how children learn, and to help them excel academically, institute staff sought to make a more direct impact in their communities.

The partnership began with a scientist/mentor program. NICHD scientists began visiting classrooms several times a year to conduct hands-on science experiments. This school year, there are 16 volunteer scientist mentors who will be visiting classrooms in the kindergarten through fifth grade.

NICHD now participates in several activities at Highland Elementary throughout the school year. One of the most popular initiatives is the pen pal program. Some 50 NICHD staff are exchanging letters with fourth grade students several times during the year. The program links students with an adult role model and provides an opportunity to enhance their reading and writing skills. At the end of the school year, a lunch is planned for the students to meet their pen pals.

Other programs include a career day and the tutor/study buddy program. For career day, volunteers make a presentation about a career or health topic to a class. Last school year, nearly 30 classrooms were visited by NICHD intramural and extramural staff on career day. The tutor/study program involves volunteers visiting the school to tutor a student once a week for 30 minutes.

The many hours that NICHD staff have volunteered at Highland Elementary have not only benefitted the students, but have also led to the opportunity for the school to receive desperately needed renovations. The 797 volunteer hours that NICHD donated during the 2000-2001 school year were instrumental in allowing the school to qualify for a grant to purchase new carpet and tile for the entire school.

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