Jose Rodriguez was just answering a teacher's call for help when he agreed to meet with 9-year-old Roy Hernandez. Known as "the cool kid in class," Roy was midway through his second stint in third grade and sporting an aloofness about his school work.
Rodriguez, then an 18-year-old senior at Pasco High School, met weekly with Roy over four months in the spring to help with school work. Sometimes they chatted up the Rays, the Bucs or their shared interest in the military.
"If you want to go into the military," Rodriguez would tell his young charge, "you have to do good in school."
Before long, teacher Maria Edwards was noting a turnabout in Roy, who ended up passing the FCAT and even confessed to his mentor that he actually liked math.
"Roy became more interested in his class work and getting it done correctly," Edwards said. "Jose would have these very mature conversations with him. I think he (Roy) got the idea that you can be cool and absolutely responsible."
Such donations of time, between people who are just years or even generations apart, are an increasingly essential factor in educating today's children.
During the 2010-11 school year, more than 23,000 volunteers signed on to help out in Pasco schools, logging 481,632 hours. Their service helped local schools rack up 72 Golden School Awards, 16 Silver School Awards and 48 Five-Star School Awards from the state.
"There are thousands of people who have volunteered consistently for many years," said Jeff Morgenstein, supervisor for communications, government relationships and leadership development for the Pasco County School District. "They have a kid in school or they have grandchildren in the schools. There are others that simply want to give back."
They worked in the school office, the clinic, the media center, the cafeteria. At field days, at the book fair, in newly planted school gardens. They served on the PTA, PTO and the school advisory council. They headed up recycling efforts, worked the concession stands, parked cars and collected tickets for school drama productions.
It's an endless list.
Even so, there's room — and demand — for more.
The focus for 2011-12 is to draw on untapped community talent and channel some of that to the schools that need it most, Morgenstein said.
Already in the works is a partnership between members of the West Pasco Board of Realtors and Anclote High School, which received an F grade last year (the latest grades aren't out yet). Morgenstein also hopes to work closely with the new administration at the recently F-graded Gulf Highlands Elementary.
Mentors or tutors such as Rodriguez and Ruth Carter (see related story) who are willing to work with students one-on-one are at the top of Morgenstein's wish list.
Teaching experience isn't a requirement. In fact, there's training available for those who might feel apprehensive about returning to a classroom, Morgenstein said, noting there are a lot of aging baby boomers who might be looking for something fulfilling to do who could help fill the gaps.
"Having someone shelve books in the media center is a very valuable service," Morgenstein said. "But if we could get a retired engineer — someone who's worked in the field — to work with a student in science and math, well, why would I not want that kind of help, too?"
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6251.