Westborough resident brings PVSA program to Armstrong
Westborough – Thanks to new Westborough resident Claudia Ramirez, the letters P, V, S and A will be mentioned in the classrooms of Armstrong Elementary School far more than when just singing the alphabet.
Before students left for summer vacation in June, Armstrong announced that the school would participate in the Presidential Volunteer Service Awards program (PVSA) starting July 1. PVSA is a nationwide program established by The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation in 2003 to honor volunteers for their service and to encourage more Americans to aid their communities.
Ramirez, who moved to Westborough with her family in August 2009 from Highlands Ranch, Col., first heard about PVSA when she was living in Highlands Ranch and sending her children to a charter school nearby. The school had gone through the process of certifying itself with the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, but at the time was not participating in the plan. After hearing about PVSA, Ramirez took on the process of establishing the program at the charter school. For two years, Ramirez ran the school’s version of PVSA and enjoyed watching it become a success.
“I loved working with the kids at Montessori [the charter school] and saw firsthand how much they enjoyed being recognized for the little things they did in their free time,” Ramirez said.
PVSA has diff erent age group categories that determine the amount of service needed to win diff erent levels of awards. Similar to the charter school, Armstrong will participate in the 5- to 14-year-old category because it is a kindergarten through third-grade school. In order to qualify for awards, students need to log and track their hours of service with the help of parents or guardians. For this age level, 50 to 74 hours are needed per year for a bronzelevel award, 75 to 99 hours are needed for a silver-level award, and 100 or more hours of service for the gold-level award. Additionally, 4,000 hours or more of volunteer service in a lifetime will win the President’s Call to Service Award.
Any Armstrong student who wins an award will receive a lapel pin in the color representing his/her service-award level, a personalized certificate and a congratulatory letter from the president of the United States.
When Armstrong Principal John Mendes spoke to Ramirez about her proposal, he was intrigued by the potential impact the program could have on the school community.
“This is an early childhood building and we’re always modeling strong citizenship,” Mendes said.
After Ramirez received Mendes’s approval, she went before the Armstrong Parent Group (APG) and asked if they would support her plan. The APG agreed and will help Ramirez keep track of the students’ hours by providing volunteers to help with the effort.
Mendes plans to make the program part of the everyday discussions and activities in the school’s classrooms. For instance, he intends to continue “Book Buddies,” times when older students read to the younger ones. The students who read will be able to add this time toward their PVSA hours. Students will also have the opportunity to gain service hours by working on projects led by the Green Committee, a group of parents who are trying to involve children and staff in making Armstrong more environmentally friendly.
Some Armstrong students collected their first volunteerservice hours for the PVSA program through the efforts of the Green Committee and second-grade teacher Janet Hart. In order to teach her pupils that vegetables don’t grow in supermarkets, Hart spoke to them about gardening and how vegetables are important to include in a daily diet. Hart’s students, in turn, came up with the idea of planting their own garden and giving the vegetables they grew to the school cafeteria. The Green Committee provided the children with soil, plants and gardening equipment. Students planted the garden around the school’s flagpole at the front entrance of the building. The time spent planting won’t be counted for the PVSA program since it took place before Armstrong officially started the charity effort. As school starts, though, many of these same pupils will be able to harvest the crops and count these hours toward PVSA service. Additionally, during the summer, five Armstrong families took care of the garden, and the students who helped will be able to log the time they spent in the garden.
PVSA runs on 12-month cycles and therefore, the students will stop accumulating hours toward the effort June 30, 2011. Even though it officially ends in 2011, Ramirez is hopeful that the program will continue for years to come.
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