DERBY – As Steve Gardner paced at the front of a classroom, providing information and asking questions, students responded by raising their hands and revealing what they want to do when they grow up.
“Play Major League baseball,” said one of the students in Jory Pirritino’s fifth-grade class at Irving School in Derby.
“Oh,” responded Gardner. “Do you know how many players make it to big leagues? That’s not an easy one.”
But the student was unmoved, saying confidently that he would be one of the few to make it.
Gardner, who manages All-Star Transportation’s terminal in Seymour, was in the classroom for a Junior Achievement program known as JA Our Nation. The program is designed to “introduce students to the intersection of work readiness and upper elementary grades social studies learning objectives,” according to Junior Achievement.
The program requires volunteers like Gardner to engage students in hands-on activities that teach students about our country’s free-market system and how it creates jobs. Students also learn about entrepreneurship and innovative thinking. Under the program, volunteers host five 45-minute sessions spread out over five weeks.
“The program is a great opportunity for the students to learn about the business world,” says Pirritino. “I believe it was successful with Steve. He made so many real-world connections with all of the concepts that were presented.”
Gardner agreed to become a first-time volunteer after being contacted by Candace Lebel, a teacher at Irving School who coordinates Junior Achievement activities. Gardner had never met Lebel in person, but he was familiar with her because of her requests for buses for school trips. After deciding to participate, Gardner met during this past fall with Melanie Strout, the program manager for Junior Achievement of Western Connecticut, to review materials he would need for the program.
“I thought the most challenging part was getting all of the students engaged at the same time and getting their attention. There were 21 students and not all of them have the same attention span,” he says.
“I think the kids did learn as they got to hear lessons from someone other than their teacher,” he continued. “Sometimes a change gets them engaged more because they are not hearing from the same teacher or staff member. I think that the lessons taught real world material to help them prepare for a career at some point. That is something that all students need so they are ready when they enter the workforce.”
Pirritino agreed, saying, “After the program, the kids were able to talk more knowledgeable about career readiness.”
While educational for the students, the experience also benefitted Gardner, providing him with insight as to what it takes to be an effective instructor.
“I learned how to prepare myself as an instructor,” says Gardner, who once considered becoming a music teacher. “I have always been behind the scenes or hands on, but not an instructor where I have a class in front of me presenting material. I had to review the lessons the day prior, and I would make notes on index cards so that I wouldn’t be reading the material word for word. This allowed me to understand the key ideas and terms ahead of time so that the instruction would be fluid and professional. Being able to do this will help me in the future prepare to be an instructor if called upon to do so. “
And he says if he is asked to volunteer again, he would gladly return.
“It gets me out of the office for a couple of hours once a week!” he says. “And it is also great opportunity to serve the students at Irving School.”