Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, the afterschool program at Arsenal Elementary School is graced by the presence of volunteer Arleen Smigielski.  Run by Neighborhood Learning Alliance, in partnership with Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, the afterschool program takes place every week Monday through Thursday.  “Arleen is invaluable.  She comes to the program twice a week and helps out with homework and difficult math challenges that students face” says Nancy Walker, Afterschool Coordinator at Arsenal Elementary.

“I care very much about the students and staff at the afterschool program and hope that my past experience as a teacher proves beneficial” explains Arleen, who was a Special Education teacher for over 30 years before retiring in 2011.  She believes that retired teachers, especially, should volunteer at afterschool programs because they can “utilize the skills and knowledge they have accumulated after years of teaching and are familiar with techniques and approaches to help students struggling to grasp ideas and concepts.”  As an added benefit, she says, volunteers can do this “without the pressures of preparation and paperwork later in the day.”

A typical day for Arleen while volunteering includes assisting students with homework completion, reading with the students, practicing math facts and assisting with more challenging math concepts, and spending time with the students during dinner and during the group activity.  “The smiles and laughter of the children inspire me.  I’m always touched by their large group recitation of the affirmation statement that expresses what they believe” Arleen states of her involvement in Arsenal’s afterschool program.  “I choose to volunteer because I care very much about the students and staff and hope that my past experience as a teacher proves beneficial.”

Referring to Arleen’s presence in the afterschool program as “invaluable”, Nancy explains that Arleen “sits and reads with the kindergarten and first graders, giving each student a chance to read stories to her.  Then she takes the third, fourth, and fifth graders and helps them learn their math facts.  After all of that, she even stays and eats dinner with the group of children, making it a meaningful time and playing games or just visiting.  We love having miss Arleen!”

In addition to the afterschool program at Arsenal Elementary, Neighborhood Learning Alliance runs afterschool programs at a number of other Pittsburgh Public elementary and middle schools and can always benefit from additional volunteers.  To find more information on how to become involved, visit www.neighborhoodlearning.org/volunteer or contact Sharmyn Straughters, Neighborhood Learning Alliance’s Volunteer Coordinator, at straughters@neighborhoodlearning.org.