Archive | September 2010

Does volunteering one hour a week make sense?

Did we all see Ambassador Karen’s Hughes’ letter to the editor in Tuesday’s Austin American Statesman? Find it here:

Hughes, who has been a champion of Austin Partners in Education for several years, urged the community to give one hour of their week to children in Austin classrooms. She leads the charge for The  41st Hour Campaign, designed to ask State employees who serve us all 40 hours a week to add one more hour of service as a volunteer in the classroom.

Here at the Austin Partners in Education office, we are all busy on the phone and email, and in face-to-face meetings, trying to garner support from the community so we can collectively place 850 volunteers into AISD in the next couple of weeks as Classroom Coaches. When we succeed these coaches can, as Ms. Hughes points out, make that life changing difference in a young person’s life. We’re grateful to Ms. Hughes for her vocal and loyal support of what we do.

People have different motivations for giving time or money to causes in their community. Some do it because it’s a family tradition. Others do it because it feels good, or is fun. Still others do it because it is good business, or part of their faith and spiritual practice. Some do it because it makes sense. I want to speak to this last group for a moment. We know it feels good to volunteer, but why does Classroom Coaching make sense?

We recruit, train and place volunteers in the classrooms because it works to help students succeed at key points critical to their academic success.

That matters in second grade more than you might realize. According to the National Research Council, a person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by 3rd grade is unlikely to graduate from high school. Look around the children you know in 2nd and 3rd grade. Should their fate be sealed that early in their lives? We can change that. The problem is 74% of the children who perform poorly in reading in third grade continue to read poorly into high school.[i] So we have to get in front of that and boost their skills in 2nd grade.

The Classroom Coaching model of small interactive groups of 2 -3 students per coach gives every child in the class a chance to ask questions, listen, and learn, as an individual. It also allows them to see their volunteer’s love of reading and the relevance to it in real world terms. As one our volunteers Sherry Washington told her students, “If you can read, you do anything.” To a child in poverty (60% of the students enrolled in AISD are economically disadvantaged) that’s a promise we need to keep.

We coach 8th grade math in addition to 2nd and 6th grade reading. Algebra is the subject students in U.S. public schools fail most often.[ii] Like reading skills in 2nd and 3rd grade, Algebra is a gatekeeper that broadens or limits future opportunities for many students. According to the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS), 83% of the students who are successful in Algebra and Geometry go on to college. Sadly, students who failed Algebra were four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who passed the course. We can do something about that.

Classroom Coaching evaluations and assessments show an increase in student learning outcomes including increased scores on State-mandated tests. One hour a week of your time CAN make a difference in whether a student stays in school. Join city and state employees, business people, college students and many of your neighbors. Say yes to Classroom Coaching.

Register at It just makes sense.

[i] Fletch, J.M. & Lyon, G.R. (1998). Reading: A research-based approach.

[ii] Jacobson, Katrine Gram. (1999). Central Tensions, A Critical Framework for Examining High School Mathematics and Mathematics Education.

Texas Parks and Wildlife volunteers speak up, and sign up, for another year!

Here’s a big shout out to our friends at Texas Parks and Wildlife. Al Bingham (Director of Human Resources) hosted an information session yesterday about Classroom Coaching. Mr. Bingham let everyone in the room know the agency’s commitment to Classroom Coaching was high. “This is something we really support as an agency,” he said. “We believe in social responsibility and we believe in youth. We need quality, educated students so they can grow into quality, educated employees.” He suggested that many Texas Parks and Wildlife employees who were scientists would be a good fit for math coaching. Among the group attending the session were three math Classroom Coaches from last year: Marla Bays, Sandy Birnbaum and Bob Gottfreid.

They recalled some experiences from last year’s volunteer experience. “I had misgivings at first about not remembering 8th grade algebra concepts,” said Marla. “But the teacher is there in the room with you the whole time. When I raise my hand, it shows my students that even adults don’t always have all the answers –  it makes me human.” Marla talked about ways she would make learning a specific math concept or skill relevant in real world scenarios. “I’d ask about their career goals and what they wanted to be. Then I could tie a concept or skill to what they would need in that context.”

Sandy recommended reviewing the curriculum provided by Austin Partners in Education each week before the coaching session. “They’ve changed the way they teach these concepts so just reviewing the curriculum will help you be prepared. I was an A student but they way they teach this is sometimes very different from what we learned.”

Sandy and Bob carpooled last year and shared some of the trials and triumphs of coaching. “Sometimes one of your students is not going to be engaged. They may have personal issues going on,” Sandy said, “It can be tough but you just have to keep trying. You just don’t know the impact you’re having.”

Sandy recalled a moment when she was able to help a student realize she could pick out the wrong answers to help determine the right ones. “I showed her the answers to the problem we were working and said ‘Look, there are some obvious wrong answers here.’ Once she realized that she could rule those out she was better able to determine what the right answers were.”

Bob suggested his coworkers seriously consider the volunteer opportunity. He let the group know there will be days when the coach feels really successful, and days when the student and the coach just didn’t seem to connect. “It’s really important to remember when you sign up to be role model you can’t quit just because you had a hard day. You commit to being there for that student.”

All three have registered to volunteer for another year as 8th grade classroom coaches. We think several of their coworkers will be joining them. All of us at APIE send a big thanks to everyone at Texas Parks and Wildlife for your commitment.

Meet Math Classroom Coach Phillip Auth

Austin Partners in Education recruits, trains and places volunteers into Austin area schools as Classroom Coaches. After volunteers select their preferred time, location and subject from the list on our website at, they attend our training. We provide useful information and curriculum support materials so coaches will always be prepared to succeed. When the coaches get to their classroom it has been divided into small interactive groups of 2-3 students per coach. The teacher is always present while coaches work with the same group of students for 45 minutes a week. Last year we placed more than 850 volunteers as Classroom Coaches.

We are recruiting now for this year.

Our 8th grade Algebra classes have several openings. We thought hearing from one of our Math coaches might help you decide to help students at this very important point in their academic life.

Phillip Auth has coached Algebra two years in a row, and just registered for a third year. He was one of seventeen volunteers from Teachers Retirement System of Texas to coach last year. Born in a small town southwest of Chicago, Phillip joined the navy after graduating high school. He then went to college and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of New Mexico. Before coming to Austin to pursue his MBA at UT, Phillip lived in San Diego, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Boulder, Colorado; Barcelona, Spain; and São Paulo, Brazil.

(APIE) Tell us about your current job at TRS and what you do.

(Phillip) I work in the Investments Management Division. I analyze stocks in Emerging Markets outside of Asia, such as Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Russia.

Why did you decide to become a Classroom Coach?

I was looking for a way to give back to my community. Prior to volunteering with Austin Partners in Education, I volunteered at a middle school near my home, but wasn’t placed in a meaningful role. When TRS was looking for mentors in the fall of 2007, I asked about other opportunities. It was then I learned about Classroom Coaching and becoming a Math Coach.  It immediately sounded like a perfect fit.

What do you like about volunteering – what keeps you coming back for a third year?

I really like watching the kids progress, and feeling like I am having a positive impact.

What is one of your memorable experiences working with the kids?

During my first semester, I was at Webb Middle School. Both of my kids, and most of the classroom, were bilingual. When they started teasing each other in Spanish, I jumped in and told them in Spanish that I knew what they were talking about! I told them that I also spoke Portuguese, and, if they would work through their math problems, I would teach them some Portuguese. It turned out to be a big incentive and each class ended with a brief Portuguese lesson.

Sometimes we hear people say they are reluctant to coach math, it having been a while since they approached 8th grade math topics. What advice would you give them about coaching, and how it differs from tutoring and teaching?

Do not be afraid. First of all, Partners in Math provides training and gives each coach a notebook with all the information you need. Second of all, if you stumble on occasion I think it actually shows the students you are human too, and helps you bond.

Why should someone volunteer as a Classroom Coach?

I think being a Math or Reading Coach is very rewarding. More importantly, there is a huge need.   In 8th grade Math students are learning about percentages, area and volume. But they can still be confused by basic multiplication and division.   Without the help of their coach, some of these kids will not graduate from middle school much less high school.   Helping them better understand Math and Reading will be a foundation for all of the future success they have in life.