Step into one of Rebecca Greenfeld’s classes at Brewster High School and you might just find a student volunteer leading the lesson. There may be a few volunteers in the back, prepping materials for the next course. There could even be a student or two tinkering with a robot during a free period, stopping to help when they see a peer who could use it. Greenfeld’s room has become a magnet for eager young scientists, ready to lend a helping hand.
“It’s just phenomenal,” Greenfeld said. “They come in to do homework and, the next thing I know, they’re around the room helping other students. They’re just amazing.”
Greenfeld said the helping started last year. She had a group of students who would come into her room, which is a makerspace, and hang out during their free periods. It wasn’t long before hanging out turned into helping out.
“Now I have volunteers in all of my classes. They put supplies away, build exemplars, test materials, help instruct, assist students, develop mini-quizzes, grade and organize. The only requirement is that they have taken the course before and want to help.”
One day a few weeks ago, Makenzie Nieves and Jessica Higgins volunteered in Intro to Engineering and Design. The lesson that day was on drawing objects in perspective. Nieves demonstrated how to draw from one-point and two-point perspectives by using a document camera and smartboard. Students watched in real time as she drew and Higgins weaved between desks helping anyone who had trouble doing it on their own.
“We’ve both been part of Mrs. G’s engineering classes since freshman year and we’re seniors now,” Higgins said. “There isn’t a fourth engineering class, but we still wanted to be a part of it. This is the perfect way to do that. Also, I feel like the class has changed so much since we took it as freshman so we’re learning with the kids and also helping them.”
The girls log volunteer hours for their work in Greenfeld’s classes, but were quick to point out that it is not the only reason they help.
“We need 20 hours of volunteering to graduate, but I’m doing this because I like it,” Nieves said. “The class has a different structure to it. We were both attracted to that and wanted to help. Also, I think we want to do this kind of thing because we are both thinking about careers in STEM.”
Both girls envision themselves going into science-related careers. Nieves had considered engineering but is now leaning towards chemistry. Higgins hopes to study chemical engineering and get into cosmetic chemistry.
The girls’ enthusiasm for science was apparent as they helped fellow students. Greenfeld’s was too. As Nieves explained something to the class, Greenfeld’s jaw dropped.
“I just learned something new,” she said. “I never thought of it that way!”
While her classroom has become a beacon for science lovers, Greenfeld won’t take the credit. Instead, she credits the advantages of a makerspace and the high caliber of her students.
“I am blessed to have such great students,” Greenfeld said. “In fact, current students are already talking about being volunteers with me next year. This is a great way to promote civic responsibility, leadership skills and a sense of community.”
Civic responsibility is one of the essential skills the district stresses as part of its Strategic Coherence Plan and it can be seen in action in Greenfeld’s class.