Iowa City Community School District announces new volunteer initiative to support students

The ICCSD department of equity started the Community Cares Crew which allows community members to come into schools throughout the day to provide encouragement to students of all ages.

Grace Katzer, News Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District is bringing volunteers into schools to create positive influences for students. 

The Community Cares Crew is a new initiative that encourages Iowa City volunteers to support students by showing up in the mornings and at dismissal to welcome students into the building and to see them off home. 

RELATED: Iowa City Community School District experiencing rising prices, employee shortages

Frederick Newell, Iowa City schools’ inclusion and outreach coordinator, said at a Sept. 26 school board meeting that he is hoping to repair issues that the schools saw at the end of the 2021-22 year. 

“Our team created this idea: Why don’t we bring our community into ours to see how amazing some of our schools are, as well as to be there and support some of our students,” Newell said. “[Volunteers] kind of say, ‘I hope you have an amazing day,’ help students get to the bus, and help them get off the school campus.”

The district’s August/September Equity Newsletter announced the new program to families and community members in the area. According to the letter, the new team of volunteers will go into the schools to be an exclusively positive influence for students.

Community members interested in joining the group must go through a background check and be approved by a district volunteer. 

Iowa City schools’ diversity and equity coach, Priscilla Culp said at the meeting that the goal of the program is to have a representative at every school to encourage students. 

“The ultimate goal for our volunteers is to establish relationships with students,” she said. “We know that every student needs a champion and if that champion is not a staff member in the building, it is someone in the community.”

Culp and Newell both said they plan to continue to train community members who are interested in becoming volunteers.

“The training is two layers: Cultural proficiency training, the part that I do, and Fred does the second part of the training, which is de-escalation,” Culp said. 

Volunteers are not there to help with student behaviors, but in case something happens while they’re working with a student, they have the tools to deescalate the situation, Newell said. 

Newell said the Community Cares Crew currently has 20 volunteers trained, with 10 volunteers currently active in Northwest Junior High School, South East Junior High School, and Lucas Elementary School. 

Iowa City schools Superintendent Matt Degner said while presenting at the Sept. 26 meeting that the University of Iowa athletics is also expected to contribute to the Community Cares Crew. 

“We have heard directly from the [UI] women’s basketball team [and they are] very motivated to try to help with this effort and there are further opportunities they’re continuing to work toward, too.”

Degner said having volunteers in the Iowa City schools remains a priority for the district. 

“I know I have talked to a lot of you individually about our ability to recruit and try to help maintain some volunteer presence in our school buildings,” he said to the board. “We definitely wanted to highlight that this evening to get this off the ground.”

School board member Charlie Eastham voiced his support for the initiative at the meeting. 

“To me, getting community folks involved in the school system like you’re doing is a great thing for all of us, especially the students,” Eastham said.