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Senior citizens head back to school with Bellingham students

Alderwood students sits with volunteer Jim Wakefiled

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - It was back to school for students in Bellingham on Wednesday. Among the fresh faces and new teachers are a new group of volunteers ready to help kids learn.

The district hired a volunteer coordinator to launch an online sign up and recruitment plan to get even more community members involved.

And so far, it's working well.

The week that the new online portal went live, they had a surge in sign-ups. Many of those new volunteers are senior citizens.

“I really like the relationships that you develop with the kids over a period of time," said Jim Wakefield, who started volunteering last year, just before he retired.

Wakefield dedicates several hours a week of his retirement time to third graders.

“Toward the end of the school year we started going in and having breakfast with them before class started. Just to be able to talk to them outside of the class. They look forward to seeing you when you come back," Wakefiled said.

One of the men in Wakefield's cycling group recruited him to volunteer at Alderwood Elementary School. Now about a dozen men from that group work with kids there, helping them with reading, math and science.

"The more time our kids spend with great mentors, the better off they'll be," said Assistant Superintendent Steve Clarke.

That mentoring goes a long way with kids.

Right now, the district counts 2,600 volunteers in its schools and they're recruiting more every day.

Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Gaer said her goal is to surpass 3,000 volunteers this year.

If you're ready to help out, you can start here at the district's new online sign up.

Also on Wednesday, several new district polices went into effect.

One of the new things will not only save parents money but it will also make participation in after school activities more equitable for all students.

The district eliminated 'pay to play' fees.

"We looked at an analysis last year of all of our sports and how many kids are accessing sports who qualified for a free and reduced lunch and it's very low so if you're a kid of poverty to be able to access high school sports is very hard," explained Superintendent Dr. Greg Baker.

Dr. Baker said he's whittling away at the fees, year after year. It started with getting rid of supply lists several years back and he says he's not where he wants the district to be just yet; students still have to buy their own equipment or uniforms in some sports, but he's working at making sure the education and the benefits of extracurricular activities will be available to everyone.

Cara Buckingham has two boys in the district and both enjoy sports.

“We’ve seen the benefits of athletics in our kids' lives and their friends. They learn about committing to something. Once they signed up they're committed to the whole season,” said Buckingham.




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