The Power of One | Congregation Beth Am

The Power of One

Equal Start Volunteer Ellen Schwartz Is Making a Difference

One person can make a big difference!

Ellen Schwartz, a long-time Beth Am member, has been an Equal Start volunteer since June 2015 at the Creative Montessori Learning Center (“CMLC”) in East Palo Alto. When Ellen wanted to know how her efforts could maximally impact the lives of the students with whom she was working, she sought the advice and input of Dr. Gloria Marshall, the principal of CMLC. Marshall’s vision was clear: she wanted to see the arts brought into the school and to have field trips and more volunteers to provide general enrichment which the school could no longer afford. Her school, CMLC, is a member of the California Child Care Nutrition program. All of the 130 students, ages 3 to 5, are served breakfast, lunch and a snack through this program. CMLC is funded as a preschool program through the CA State Department of Education. The children are very bright, and eager to learn.. As Ellen has noted, “Dr. Marshall helped me understand her need, and I felt that I could make it happen!” Dr. Marshall’s vision was exactly the kind of input Ellen was seeking because Beth Am’s Equal Start initiative is committed to engaging in actions that the community needs.

To turn Dr. Marshall’s dream into a reality, Ellen assembled a coalition of partners who each contributed to making it possible for the CMLC to experience a free field trip to Deer Hollow Farm where Ellen has been a docent for more than 25 years. The project involved all 120 students at CMLC and the visits were coordinated over two days. For many of the children, this was a new experience. Going on a trip away from home and school was exciting. Sue Gail, President of Friends of Deer Hollow Farm, found the funding to cover expenses and Jessica Morgan, Senior Coordinator at Deer Hollow Farm, arranged the logistics at the farm and the participation of docents to accompany the children on this adventure. The Creative Montessori staff took care of all the details at CMLC, from communications and parental permissions to chaperones and lunches.

On December 13 and 14, everything came together. Ellen described the event: “What an AMAZING experience for these kids and the teachers and the docents and the staff of Deer Hollow Farm! It took the involvement of 14 docents volunteering for small groups to make this field trip a success. We (the volunteers at Deer Hollow) have never had kids this young visit the farm before. In my group, I asked a teacher to translate what I was sharing into Spanish. Lots of show and tell! Very touchy-feely! The kids looked on with wonder as they watched Farmer Lisa milk the cow.”

Ellen modestly puts her impressive effort into perspective: “I volunteer in the Purple Door classroom. I help the children by listening to them learning English, reading to them, helping them learn to write, supervising on the playground, etc. I volunteer under the supervision of the lead teacher, the assistant teacher and two teacher aides. The atmosphere in the classroom is very warm and everyone made me feel very comfortable. I don’t have a formal teaching background, but I love children! and now I love the Montessori method.”

Ellen considers herself a community volunteer who believes she is getting far more than she gives. “I feel that I have made a real difference in the lives of these preschoolers, giving them learning experiences they will always remember! Being with them is definitely a highlight of my week! I choose to give two hours a week, but any amount of time is OK. You can do it, too!”

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