Volunteers at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School

On-site resources and programs developed at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School

Nov. 25, 2019

By Gillian Kenah

Patrick Norris, coordinator of player development at Binghamton University Men’s Basketball, plays defense during recess.The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at Binghamton University works closely with the University’s Community Schools initiative, a partnership between the University and eight local school districts that brings the resources of communities — including institutions of higher education — to bear in supporting children, youth, families, schools and neighborhoods to maximize learning outside as well as inside the classroom. The program aims to create familiarity between the schools and the University in order to maintain regular communication and build trust in the collaboration. 

Rose Olsen, a CCE graduate assistant supporting the initiative, focuses her efforts on the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Binghamton, the newest school to join the Community Schools partnership. At the beginning of the school year, Olsen met with school administrators to learn their needs so she could be sure to place volunteers and interns in positions that would help school administrators meet their goals.

As a result, Olsen reorganized the school's community closet, adding resources to and making it more accessible to students. She is also helping develop a food pantry located within the school. Additionally, she arranged for several Binghamton University men’s basketball players to visit the school during recess to play with and speak to the children about their lives as college athletes. This enriched the children’s recess experience, a goal specified by the school administration, and created a bond between the children and strong role models. 

The Community Schools initiative has seen expansive growth since it was launched in 2014, connecting with additional schools, garnering additional graduate assistant support and placing increasing numbers of students in volunteer opportunities, totaling over 500 hours this semester alone. The initiative places about 500 student volunteers and interns per academic year in schools across the county. Participants have played with children during recess, read during class time, assisted in the classroom, supported after-school programming and more. 

The CCE provides student volunteers with the necessary training to volunteer at a school so they can offer the most effective support possible, bolstering students’ professional development. Above all, the University’s Community Schools program connects highly motivated, bright students with school staff and children to accomplish shared goals.

Sara Hall, the CCE assistant director of school and youth programs, said the partnership exemplifies a reciprocal relationship between the Binghamton University students and local schools. 

“I get to see how this has had a direct impact on our University students for their life trajectory, in helping them identify who they want to be as a professional after they graduate from Binghamton [University],” she said. “I also get to see the impact it has on our community –– the excitement on the kids’ faces when the students show up or the impact it has on their attendance or success in school. I really get to see the best of both worlds, and I get to see how it is mutually beneficial, which is really my favorite part.”

Photos: Banner — A Binghamton University volunteer reads to students during class. Top — Patrick Norris, coordinator of player development at Binghamton University Men’s Basketball,  plays defense during recess.