Language tutoring, sports grants, lego robots & other volunteer school programs you should know about

Meet six community programs helping local kids develop the educational and leadership skills they need to succeed.
Crosscut archive image.

Students involved in Rainier Athletes.

Meet six community programs helping local kids develop the educational and leadership skills they need to succeed.

What happens to students when families and teachers need extra help and resources are tight? As part of our Community Idea Lab, focusing this winter on K-12 education, Crosscut is soliciting your ideas for how to make education more student-focused, personalized and community-rooted. (We hope you'll consider submitting an idea of your own here before Friday, January 30th at midnight.)

We also know that, around the state, there are already organizations (and the volunteers that work with them) stepping in to provide support at local schools. They help struggling readers or provide a positive place for young people to go after school to build friendships and learn new skills, and we've gotten to know a handful of them.

We hope their work will inspire your thinking as you noodle over your own Community Idea Lab submission. And, incidentally, they’re all looking for more volunteers.

1. Mentor Rainier Athletes

Crosscut archive image.Rainier Athletes sponsors motivated students in 5th through 8th grade who lack the resources to pay for sports programs. The team is currently working with 26 students in five schools in the Bellevue School District to fund the cost of year-round participation in programs like select basketball and baseball.

At right: A pair of Rainier Athletes horsing around on the baseball diamond. Photo: Rainier Athletes.

The program also provides around-the-clock mentorship, tasking its staff and volunteers with helping teachers, parents and coaches communicate so that students receive encouragement and the help they need to meet the academic and behavior standards required by the program to participate.

“We give them something to be passionate about and that translates into other areas of their life,” said Jesse Franklin, the organization’s founder and executive director.

One mother, whose son is in 7th grade at a Bellevue middle school and has participated in Rainier Athletes since 5th grade, said her son was always a good student and well-behaved. But in 5th grade, he “started to follow the crowd.” With teacher support and an interest in sports, the boy joined Rainier Athletes and focused on developing leadership skills.

“At first it was really, really hard,” his mom said. “He had to miss one baseball game one to two months into the program. He’s only missed 10 minutes of one game since then.”

In 6th grade, he received a school leadership award and participated on a committee to reach out to struggling students. This program, she said, is “showing him you can be an athlete and be cool and be nice at the same time and be a leader in the community.”

Interested? Rainier Athletes is expanding and is seeking more volunteers to mentor student athletes, provide academic help after school, and do computer work, even remotely. To be a mentor, volunteers need to be able to communicate well with students and adults, be organized, and be able to commit some time during weekdays. Potential volunteers can contact

2. Help Students Read through Reading Partners

This national organization has recently come to the Seattle area and is working in two elementary schools — Sanislo Elementary in West Seattle and Beverly Park Elementary School in the Highline School District. Started by a small group of retired teachers, Reading Partner has volunteers in the Seattle area working one-on-one with 80 children who are struggling with reading, said Cassy Charyn, who manages the program in Seattle. Students receive two 45-minute reading sessions a week at no cost to them.

Next year, Reading Partners Seattle hopes to offer reading assistance in five schools who have many kindergarten through 4th-grade students in need of extra help. The program is evidence-based and aligned with the common core, Charyn said. Nationwide last school year, 89 percent of students in Reading Partners increased their rate of learning and 72 percent finished the year closer to their target grade level.

Courtney Daikos, principal at Beverly Park, said that the school is in the process of analyzing data that will show the impact of one-on-one reading help through Reading Partners. She is already hearing from teachers that more kindergarten students know all letter names and sounds at this point in the year compared to last year.

With 50 percent of students at the school struggling to read, “teachers have a waiting list they want to send to Reading Partners, but there’s not enough volunteers,” Daikos said. Reading Partners Seattle and Beverly Park would welcome anyone who wants to join the current pool of high school students, senior citizens and community members who can give a couple hours a week helping students become better readers.

Interested? Sign up at Reading Partners Seattle volunteer page.

3. Tutor Immigrants and Refugees at Seattle World School

Crosscut archive image.Seattle World School is a public school serving middle- and high-school-age students newly arrived from other countries. Volunteers there help staff to support students in learning so they can transition to their local schools. Volunteers work with students who struggle to follow the school curriculum because they don’t know English or the culture, said Julia Jeong, who coordinates volunteers for the school. “Some didn’t have access to education in their countries.”

At right: Seattle World School students take a field trip to the Gates Foundation. Photo: Seattle World School

Jeong identified three ways for community members to help at Seattle World School: Mentor students during the school day, following them to their classes and translating to help them understand what they’re learning; tutor students after school to help them with class assignments and homework; and provide extra support for students on Saturdays with subjects like math and English.

The first opportunity requires volunteers to know another language, Jeong said. The other two don’t, although another language is helpful. The biggest population at the school speaks Spanish. Other large groups at the school include students who come from Africa and speak many different languages and those who speak Vietnamese.

Ideally, the school would like volunteers who can make a long-term commitment, she said. “Once they get to know the volunteers, students are more connected and recognize volunteers as part of the team. It affects how students learn.”

Interested? Fill out an application through the Vietnamese Friendship Association, which acts as a partner to Seattle World School.

4. Read or Support Enrichment Classes with YMCA Powerful Schools

YMCA Powerful Schools partners with teachers and school leaders to support students in high-need schools in South Seattle.. The program most needs volunteer help with its after-school enrichment classes, which teach kids everything from soccer and sewing to circus programs and Lego robotics. Volunteers generally help instructors for an hour or two a week, said Jenn Daly, the organization’s development and communications director.

It is also seeking one-time volunteers for Read Across America, a national reading event marking Dr. Seuss' birthday, slated to take place Monday, March 2. “We bring volunteers to come in and share about why they like to read,” Daly said. She expects the time commitment for volunteers at this annual event to be one to two hours at area schools.

Another reading opportunity is with an ongoing intervention program for students who are struggling to read in seven elementary schools in South Seattle, Daly said. Two hundred students receive a half hour of help a day. Most of the reading specialists are paid staff, but the organization welcomes volunteers who are able to make the daily time commitment.

“We have more need than we can fill,” Daly said.

Interested? Fill out an application and find contact information at the Powerful Schools volunteer opportunities page.

5. Help Run After-School Sports through Club Jubilee

Crosscut archive image.Club Jubilee runs daily after-school sports teams and enrichment classes in 10 schools across the Bellevue School District. Originally founded around soccer, most of the students involved in Club Jubilee are still in it for the sports, said Josh Suman, Club Jubilee’s site coach at Bellevue Big Picture School. All the programs are inclusive and free to students, and the sports teams focus on character development and community building more than competition.

At right: Soccer teams from Chinook and Highland Middle Schools organized by Club Jubilee. Photo: Club Jubilee

“Middle school is a tough time for kids," Suman said. "When someone puts themselves ‘out there,’ you want to recognize that in a positive way." After games, players, referees, parents and coaches all come together to share positive things they saw others doing, like cheering, donating time, or persevering after a challenge. “We really stress that everyone’s effort and contribution is to be valued and recognized.”

Suman, who has worked with youth in other programs, finds this program, and the students in it, especially inspiring. “I’ve never had an experience that is as impactful as working with these kids because of the interaction and growth of the kids in a short amount of time.”

Interested? Potential volunteers can find a volunteer application on the Club Jubilee engage page.

6. Boost Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Skills with STEM Mentor Training

Washington State University Extension has developed a curriculum to train STEM professionals to mentor K-12 students in science, technology, engineering and math. The training will school interested mentors in topics like the qualities of a successful mentor, multicultural communication, school culture and student behavior management.

WSU Extension plans to hire a coordinator in March to connect with schools and volunteers and put the curriculum into place in Pierce County, which has already provided funding, said Martha Aitken, part of the Community and Economic Development Program Unit at WSU Extension. “The goal would be that a company might adopt this and encourage employees to participate.”

By spring, the curriculum will be available through WSU's online learning portal, perhaps for a small fee, to others interested in using the tool to start something similar.

Interested? Until the program is available online, interested businesses can contact Aitken at


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