Since the fall of 2013, Patrick “Pat” Early has been volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at King Westwood Elementary. Currently, Pat tutors and mentors four boys, two days a week for 2.5 hours, giving a total of 60 hours to CIS during 2014.
Pat is a retired Chemical Production Coordinator for Pfizer, which means that science is a large focus for him. When we asked him if he wanted to join us in piloting a new program called “Water Wizards”—a collaboration between the Kalamazoo County Drain Office, Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, and CIS—he immediately hopped on board. The program involves using a portable model to demonstrate how the water cycles works and how man-made structures (like parking lots) disrupt or prevent this process from taking place. The model is about four feet by two feet and comes with a bog, houses, trees, a parking lot, and a river that runs the length of the model. When the parking lot is placed over the bog, the water floods the houses and landscape. The model not only teaches students about water conservation, absorption, and evaporation, but also demonstrates ways to manage the land and water in sustainable ways that prevent run off, flooding, and other damages.
All four boys value spending time with Pat. They consistently comment on how funny he is. Pat works to help them develop sustainable strategies for completing schoolwork or taking tests. For example, looking for the answers in the book helps with test taking but also forms a solid study habit.
Pat also attempts to impart life lessons in a subtle way. By asking how a student’s day is, and dealing with any problems together, Pat helps students take ownership of their lives and also become accountable to those around them. He works to engage them with other kids so they see themselves as leaders, rather than passive recipients to their own learning. He does this by being willing to negotiate with kids so they’re part of the process rather than just told what to do. His style of interaction invites students to join, to set their own goals, reach those goals, and celebrate with rewards upon completion.
By empowering students to participate in setting their own guidelines, he’s also teaching lessons on creating structure, time-management, and other qualities that pave the road for sustained self-esteem and self-growth.
One of the main ways Pat achieves these goals is by cultivating curiosity—specifically about science. He states that his objective isn’t to get into the nitty-gritty mechanics of any scientific experiments, but rather to generate a spirit of investigation. He uses very simple experiments—such as separating oil and water, showing the differences between a solid, liquid, and gas, or demonstrations with dry ice—to spark those questions that naturally emerge when we experience wonder. Those questions are the jumping off point either for classroom discussions now or those questions might resonate years from now when students encounter more of the nuts and bolts of science.
One obstacle that wasn’t anticipated was being prepared to help students. Pat told CIS Volunteer Services, “I needed to know what their needs are and how I can help them.” For Pat, this requires not having a pre-conceived idea of what kids need but being present and listening to what the problem is. Being genuine, engaged, and willing to help with whatever comes up.
Another obstacle Pat encountered was learning to set limits with his volunteer time. Finding balance and learning to say no to certain projects was necessary so he didn’t burn out and so the time he was able to give was quality time.
Pat is a patient communicator and always bends the conversation toward mutual understanding.Those who encounter Pat comment on his friendly and approachable nature. His enthusiasm and curiosity jump off him in even the simplest interactions. As Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood Elementary puts it, “Pat greets every tutoring experience with contagious positivity and energy that charms even the most reluctant students into learning. He connects readily with students, gently and calmly guiding them toward more effective self-monitoring. We are so thankful for Pat’s contribution to our community at King-Westwood!”
Pat Early was nominated within the “Adult Volunteer” category for the STAR awards. Special thanks to CIS Volunteer Services for their assistance with this and the recent post on Literacy Buddies, nominated within the “Youth Group Volunteer” category. The final STAR winners within each of the 14 volunteering categories can be found here.
Tags: Kalamazoo County Drain Office, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, King Westwood Elementary School, Laura Keiser, Patrick "Pat" Early, retired Pfizer volunteer, sharing love of science with students, STAR Awards, volunteering, volunteers