Gonzales junior volunteers pleased with recognition

Gonzales Elementary School Junior Bulldogs VIPS do everything from helping teachers out in the classrooms to mentoring younger children.

Recently, the group was among many recognized for its efforts at an Ector County Independent School District Volunteers and Partners luncheon.

There are 23 fourth- and fifth-graders in the Gonzales Junior Bulldogs VIPs, school counselor and junior volunteer coordinator Candra Duckworth said. While they do things teachers need them for, such as setting up for assemblies, running the Bulldog Store every Friday or delivering bags for Food 2 Kids, which supplies food for students on weekends, they also take on their own works.

“It’s all because they want to do it,” Duckworth said.

She said the junior volunteers and partners will ask if help is needed to set up chairs for an assembly.

“They pretty much … come to us, too. They’re really an asset to the lower grades big time,” Duckworth said.

At first, Duckworth said she was super surprised when the group won the recognition.

“But I was very humbled and honored because I merely put the expectations in place. … It’s the kids that reach the expectations, and obviously exceeded them,” Duckworth said. “I’m very honored to be part of that.”

There are many steps students have to go through before they reach junior volunteer status, Duckworth said.

There is a program called the self-manager program at Gonzales that students have to apply for and be part of before they can be junior volunteers.

There are 103 students in the self-managers program.

There are many questions about character on the application. Students have to have excellent conduct and have to get signatures from everywhere they go in the building to show they are good students all around.

“After they get all the signatures, then they have an interview process. During the interview, it’s a lot of character questions, too. Once they pass the interview, then they’re able to get awarded their self-manager badge,” Duckworth said.

“After they get their badge, they have a lot of perks here at school. If you’re (in) fourth or fifth grade, then you’re eligible to be a junior volunteer,” she added.

Students have to apply to be junior volunteers as well.

“… Since the junior VIPS are helping in teacher’s classrooms, we need trusted students that have good character. That’s why it’s … a long process. It goes a little bit deeper than just … ‘Hey, do you want to help out in the classroom?’”

Although it takes a while, Duckworth said the process seems to have worked because the junior volunteers take more pride in their work. They have to strive to maintain their self-manager and junior VIP status.

“That’s pretty much my goal in my counseling programs is that all the character lessons and the things that we learn in guidance lessons and through junior VIPS program and the self-managers is something that they take into middle school, that they’ll take pride in and that they’ll carry on,” Duckworth said.

Fifth-graders Isaiah Baiza, 11, and Hayden McSweeny, 10, take their junior volunteer status seriously. Both are mentoring younger students and have been self-managers. Baiza also was recognized as an individual junior volunteer of the year at the district luncheon.

“It’s fun to help the teachers because then they get to do more,” Baiza said.

He added volunteering makes him happy and it allows him to get to know teachers as people.

McSweeny said he likes the program because it makes him feel like a better person and he gets a lot of compliments.

Both are happy that they won the award and said they will be able to carry on with their efforts as they go through school. 

“It will help us because we will know how to be better people,” McSweeny said. “If anybody asks us for help, we’ll know how to do it.”

Duckworth said McSweeny has taken a first-grader under his wing who was not making the best choices.

“… This first-grader, his behavior has improved tremendously since Hayden has taken an interest in him. Anytime this little boy is having a bad day, Hayden will go by and just talk it out with him like, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ So an incentive for this child is that on Friday he’s able to help Hayden do the Food 2 Kids,” Duckworth said.

She added that the younger child’s academics also have improved since McSweeny started hanging out with him.

Baiza also helps a kindergarten student.

 “He did not make good choices either, but once he knew that he could help, he started improving increasingly. He got Bulldog of the Month and he started acting good,” Baiza said.