In 2009, Judite Carey, a software engineer and course developer for IBM in the United States, joined the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at the Mark G. Hoyle Elementary School in Swansea, Massachusetts. The school— named after the first student in the United States known to have AIDS who was allowed to attend public schools—serves students from pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade.
“Putting time aside for our family is a priority in my life,” says Judite. “I believe with careers today, parents are always looking for opportunities to spend time with their kids—and by volunteering at my daughter’s elementary school I’m able to build and participate in events that focus on the students and on family time.”
After one year on the PTO, Judite was elected to serve as its co-president. Her mission was to get more volunteers involved, share and give responsibility to others, listen to all opinions and make decisions on what was best for the kids and the school.
She says that by the end of that year, the PTO was operating as a cohesive team.
Learning while playing
For years IBM has actively supported the volunteer activities of its employees—the company’s On Demand Community web site provides resources for volunteers to help accelerate impact at the organizations they serve. Judite found the “Math Games for Kids” activity kit on the site and thought the students at Hoyle Elementary would benefit from its lessons.
“Math is always a subject students struggle with, and we thought that making it a game would be a great way for the students to learn,” Judite says.
“Math Games for Kids” uses activities like pattern-matching and greater-than/less-than logic to give younger children a fun introduction to the math skills they’ll learn in first and second grade—slightly older children play games that involve estimating time and comparing shapes and volume.
Judite met with the school principal and teachers, and together they decided the activity could be adapted for use with all grade levels at Hoyle.
“We held the activity during the 2012-2013 school year,” she says. “The teachers loved it, and every student played.”
Judite says that most of the children may not realize they are learning while they are playing—when games are used for instructional purposes and skill building, students are having fun, are engaged, and do not see the games as “work.”
“These games excited the students, and when their play is focused on building skills they actively participate in their own learning,” Judite says. “Plus, with the importance of science, technology, engineering and math—STEM—a student’s excitement at this early age could provide a good foundation for stronger interest in STEM later.”
The school is also going to use the math games activity kit in the coming school year.
Helping to further create a vibrant classroom experience, Judite was able to earn an IBM grant for Hoyle Elementary School that will help supply them with computer equipment, as well as microscopes for every classroom.
The magic of the moment
As co-president of the PTO, Judite wants to involve parents as much as possible in the programs for their children and increase family time. More than 200 students and their families joined last year’s Family Halloween night when many parents dressed up in costumes and volunteered at activity stations for the kids.
“The kids had such an awesome time. They loved seeing everyone dressed in costumes, the parents got to mingle with other parents and the best part was giving the families the opportunity to come together as a community,” Judite says.
A “Polar Express” event sponsored by Judite and the PTO also had parents volunteering and dressing as characters from the story.
After three years growing the PTO at Hoyle, Judite believes they can be even more impactful with additional participation. Her next goal is to increase membership and help develop events promoting healthy eating and increased physical activity.
“My volunteer experience has reinforced that working in a team is extremely important,” Judite says. “We’ve built a PTO team to work together for the same mission—to involve all segments of the school community, improve lines of communications and involve parents with educational and activity programs for students—that’s Together Everyone Achieves More, or TEAM.”
“Giving back and being involved is extremely rewarding—to see the students’ faces, the excitement, and the unity of the teachers with the parents. Sometimes when I participate in the events it’s like being a kid and I am living the magic of the moment.”