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Former School Volunteers Voice Concerns

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A recent change at Slippery Rock schools that impacts classroom volunteers has raised concerns.

Several people spoke during public comment at Monday’s school board meeting, explaining how they are disappointed that they are no longer allowed to volunteer at Slippery Rock Area Elementary.

“I really enjoy being with children…Not being able to do that is difficult,” said volunteer Sandy Wakefield.

She and others were informed about two weeks ago that they cannot volunteer in the classrooms due to an issue with members of the district’s non-instructional union, she said.

Wakefield has been volunteering at Area Elementary for quite a few years. She has helped with reading programs and other classroom activities. The students and teachers will also be affected by this change.

“Their time is very limited,” Wakefield said of the teachers needing an extra pair of hands.

The volunteers have formed good relationships with the kids, who are also disappointed. Wakefield raised her children in the district, and she has been volunteering to give back, especially since she believes “it takes a village to raise a child.”

“I wanted to tell you how we felt,” she said, noting that she was told this was not a board issue.

Stephen Gilkinson has a daughter in kindergarten, and he has enjoyed helping her class and getting to know her friends, classmates, teacher and lessons. Not being able to volunteer is detrimental to the students, he said.

He questioned what he considers a hasty decision and wondered if paid aides will have to come in, costing the district more money.

Denise Ketzel is a retired teacher from the district who had been volunteering in the classrooms. She also remembers how much she valued parent volunteers while she was teaching – also a benefit for the children.

She asked if there could be a meeting with the union members, and said that it saves the district money to have classroom volunteers.

Board President Matt Pyle said that they appreciate the comments, and will look into having further discussions.

“We hear you as a board,” he said.

During his report near the end of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Alfonso Angelucci said that the district’s support staff does a great job.

“Nobody’s demeaning what you do,” he said of spending time in the classrooms.

Volunteerism is “alive and well” in the district through many other opportunities like holiday events, kindergarten registration, class parties, field trips, and more.

After the meeting, Angelucci said that the district has ended the practice of classroom volunteers, which was most common at Area Elementary. There had been some complaints from members of the support staff union, he said.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, Melissa Schulz spoke during public comment about school safety, which is on everyone’s minds with the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida that left 17 students and teachers dead. She has two children in the district.

She said that she and other parents have concerns about the safety of the school buildings in the district, and ideas about preventing and stopping dangerous situations.

They have some suggestions they would like to share with board members, Schulz said, adding that perhaps some parents can join the district’s crisis committee.

Pyle said that important issues like safety and security are always a main priority, and that discussions are ongoing for each building.

After the meeting, Angelucci said that school leaders are open to dialogue with the public about safety measures, and it might be a good idea to get parents involved with one of the crisis committees.