Volunteers make it happen

Ali Piyarali – Math challenger and volunteer

I volunteer at Rainier Prep because I enjoy the spirit of learning.  I find it personally gratifying, and I’m always surprised by the kids’ desire to learn, no matter what level they’re learning at.  They may not get the concept right away, but if they have a chance to develop it, they see the results of their  engagement for themselves. I have kids of my own in college now, and I understand how seminal these middle school moments can be in the overall growth of young people.  What forms a foundation for these students now positions them for their future.  

Volunteering at Rainier Prep helps to create the space, place, and safe harbor for learning where kids look forward to coming to school — and they want to keep coming back.   No two kids are alike, so I help my math teachers to offer more customizable learner-specific opportunities.  Different students need different kinds of help, and some want the jumpstart to do extra work.  As I see it, investment in teachers is the single most important thing our community can do.  The quality of teachers here has an exponential effect on these students’ learning, especially when both teachers and students see the traction they’re getting.
I enjoy volunteering in math because my background is in STEM and my work was STEM-related.  I’m comfortable with that subject, but I also think my expertise adds value.  At the end of every session, we repeat “math is fun,” and we always talk about that.  Sure, there’s a bit of programming and verbal cues there, but math IS fun!  Doing hard problems IS fun!  I keep things lighthearted, but we keep the focus on what’s important.  
From week to week, I’m setting up relationships where my students can trust me.  For example, we’re trying more coding in my small group challenge sessions.  I’m starting some seeds for later, in the hope that my students might begin to think “This is something I could really do!”  It’s long-term work, but as I invest my time, effort, and energy, the results show over time in different ways. 
So what should you know if you’re considering volunteering?  It’s fun, and you definitely get more than you put in!  My mentality for this kind of work is that it’s all about kids first.  It’s about them, whatever you do. 
Ali Piyarali has been volunteering with 7th and 8th grade math classes for almost two years.