The Department of Strategic Partnerships & Customer Service is proud to announce the winners of the 2022 Most Valuable Volunteer Award. Each year, district staff nominate volunteers who have made a contribution to academic achievement and school improvements. This year, nine volunteers were recognized for their service to students here at Milwaukee Public Schools.
Meet our 2022 award winners: Asma Altamari, Kris Grisa, Faye Gilbert, Melissa Johnson, Gwendolyn Johnson, Amber Smith, Sabrina Sedlar, Dr. Mark & Moira Bruce and Douglas Smith.
Asma Altamari was nominated by Pattie Koscielak, teacher at Garland Elementary School. Mrs. Altamari has provided classroom assistance at Garland for 5 years. She is very dependable and always completes the tasks that she is given. Mrs. Altamari works mostly with students who are new to the country. These students are young, nervous, and unsure when they arrive. Some are even fearful, however, Mrs. Altamari gives them the attention they need and makes them feel accepted and special.
Mrs. Altamari also helps with numerous class projects including science investigations and art projects. The most memorable project was the papier-mache globes she did with 30 students! This project was not easy, however, she demonstrated patience and made sure every student was included. The students love to work with Mrs. Altamari and with her warm smiles and words of encouragement, they know they can be successful.
What’s even more impressive, is that she knows what needs to be done before even being told what to do. She helps with any job, including making copies, filing, and cleaning up after a project. These tasks are always helpful especially with the busyness that goes on in the classroom every day. While Asma thanks us for having her, we thank her for demonstrating her enthusiasm, humble nature, and sheer love for helping others. She is truly a beautiful person and we are blessed to have her with us every day. Thank you, Mrs. Altamri, for being the most valuable volunteer to the students and staff at Garland Elementary School.
Kris Grisa was nominated by Parent Coordinator, Ashley Johnson, of Washington High School. Kris is a volunteer through the James Place Volunteer Program through Elmbrook Church since 2016. James Place Volunteer Program services students at Washington High School through the College/Career/Mentoring Center. Kris comes in every Tuesday and Thursday for the entire school day. Her role is a tutor/advisor/mentor to students who come to the center. She is an English major and works with essays and applications of all kinds. She works well one-on-one with students who may be struggling and need help getting ahead on their work in any subject or if they need tutoring so they are successful with taking the ACT Test. Kris also provides assistance for students ineeding help with completing job applications. She has been a great resource for many of our ELL students over the years. Teachers at Washington utilize Kris to help all over the school with any needs such as volunteering as a classroom aide in a Senior English class or helping at school events. She helps with college and scholarship events also. In honor of the students she supports, Kris attends every graduation ceremony for Washington.
Kris surpasses expectations of a volunteer in that she stays in contact with many of our graduates and continues to be a mentor to them for years after they leave WHS. She has continued to support former students who are navigating college life, parenting, or learning the English language, and much more. Kris forms close relationships with WHS staff in order to best serve them and the school. She reads books, watches documentaries, and listen's to podcasts that keep her learning and growing as she volunteers. Many former students continue to contact her for support and advice. When the James Place Coordinator is not able to open the center, Kris steps in and leads the days activities. Thank you, Kris Grisa, for all that you do for the staff and students at Washington High School. Your presence is greatly appreciated.
Faye Gilbert was nominated by first-grade teacher, Ms. Jean Karll, of Clara Barton Elementary School. As a Barton volunteer for the past 21 years, there is no task too great or too small for Ms. Gilbert. She steps in wherever she sees a need. She has been known to help prepare Barton to open in Fall, close in summer, stuff student folders, hang student work, calm a crying child, bandage a scraped knee, tie shoes, chaperone field trips, investigate and mediate student disagreements, and celebrate students’ successes. She even worked with students during Virtual Learning during January 2022. Through the eyes of a teacher Ms. Gilbert is an invaluable asset in the classroom. Through the eyes of a student, she is a friend.
In addition to all the non-academic contributions Ms. Gilbert makes to a classroom at Barton, she is an outstanding academic tutor. The students’ have multiple opportunities to practice grade appropriate speaking and listening skills when Ms. Gilbert is present. She engages them in conversation often and is a great model in this area. Because many of the students do not have opportunities to read or be read to outside of school, Ms. Gilbert’s presence is so necessary. Not only does she listen to students read each day, she also reads to them. This additional practice has had a tremendous positive impact on their ability to read and understand more complex text, both fiction and non-fiction. This year alone she has had an impact at helping 19 students make progress in Reading. In fact, because of her determination to make a difference over the years, many students have been able to make a year or more gain because of the extra attention she is able to provide them. As a published author herself, Ms. Gilbert also support students who need extra help in writing. She models, co-writes, edits and encourages wherever needed. Thank you, Ms. Gilbert, for your wonderful contribution here at Clara Barton Elementary School. What a difference you make each day you arrive!
Melissa Johnson was nominated by Principal Garry Lawson of Samuel Clemens Elementary School. Ms. Johnson has been a volunteer at Samuel Clemens since 2014. As a neighbor who lives across the street from the school, Ms. Johnson demonstrates her value for safety and always ensures that she has her eyes open when it comes to the school. She has continuous communication with school staff and is always ready to inform them on importance issues to ensure the school property is safe.
Ms. Johnson wears many hats as a volunteer at Samuel Clemens. She holds the role of Chairperson for the School Governance Council, helps in classrooms, assists with after school dismissal, school fundraisers and the distribution of various school communications for students. She has been a great help to the school this year as she assists the cafeteria staff with lunch and breakfast for students.
While the beginning stages of the pandemic did not allow volunteers to serve in-person, Ms. Johnson stayed positive and waited patiently for communication from the school on when she could return. When the district permitted in-person engagement this school year, Ms. Johnson gladly accepted the offer. Thank you, Ms. Johnson, for being a valuable member of the Samuel Clemens School Community.
Gwedolyn Johnson, also known as “Grammy”, was nominated by Cynthia Suarez, teacher at Starms Early Childhood School. Ms. Johnson’s journey as a volunteer started 28 years ago when her two youngest daughters attended Starms. She would assist on field trips as a chaperone for her daughter’s class and also provided classroom support to various teachers at the school. Her committment to the Starms Family has provided her the opporutnity to provide additional academic services in partnership with the SDC Foster Grandparents Program and the Starms After-School Camp.
Ms. Johnson is a great role model and demonstrates to the children the value of be loving and caring towards one another. She has built so many positive relationships with students that it isn’t too hard for her to step in when she sees that a student is having a bad day. Feeling sad? No worries. Grammy will pull you to the side and walk with you down the hallway to talk about your feelings. This is that positive energy that children love.
Ms. Johnson also loves to join in to singing and dancing activities with the students. Students often engage with her as they sing their hall safety song. “Stay in line, hands to yourself, and watch where you are going.” Ms. Johnson is an integral part of the Starms school family and just like students loved her 20 years ago, she is still loved the same now. Thank you, Grandma Johnson, for being the ray of sunshine to our Starms Family.
Amber Smith was nominated by Parent Coordinator of Eighty-First Street School, Ms. Bama Grice. Amber Smith is described as being a “pleasure to work with”. Amber has served as a classroom assistant for a first-grade class at Eighty-First Street School for the past three years. Amber started volunteering starting her first year at Mount Mary College through the Caroline Scholars Program and is now a senior. Her help over these years has been invaluable. Her dedication and sense of responsibility towards the first grade students was highlighted last year when we were virtual most of the year. Despite this, Amber still found a way to connect with the class by posting YouTube videos. Her videos were used to teach art. Amber took the initiative to both create the videos and also to post them. Amber is very well liked and respected by everyone at Eight-First Street School. She helps everyone out when needed. She is respectful towards the faculty, parents and students. The children constantly want to know “if Amber is coming."
Throughout the last four years, Amber has been a positive presence. Amber is able to use her skills as an artist to create wonderful lessons. This past year, she created a whole unit on the book The Dot. She designed the lesson and created the assessment and helped to display the students' work on the bulletin board outside of my classroom. This was outstanding. Amber is able to connect with all students, but makes it a priority to form a relationship with the most challenging students. She uses her art skills as a tool to further strengthen her connection. She is able to break down barriers by drawing and talking one-on-one often times. She uses art to help students refocus. Thank you, Amber Smith, for your patience, flexibility and creativeness for the students and staff here at Eighty-First Street School.
Sabrina Sedlar was nominated by the Hamilton High School Parent Coordinator, Ms. Bridgette Franklin. Mrs. Sedlar is heavily involved with the overall success of Hamilton High School. As the President of School Engagement Council (SEC), Mrs. Sedlar understands the importance of being a parent volunteer and helps to getcommunity partners connected to the success of students through their monetary and in-kind support. Mrs. Sedlar is a team player who works with a variety of staff, parents, clubs and administration staff to ensure Hamilton High School has resources to reach the needs of the students.
In her many years of service at Hamilton HS, Ms. Sedlar has helped to gather in-kind donations valued over $500 for various school events. Donations included toys, tv’s, gift cards and food used for various school events for both families and students. She has worked concessions during school events that helped to support the costs for t-shirts for the Black Student Union. Ms. Sedlar was also able to obtain four partnerships for the Hamilton HS Track & Field team that have provided student athletes with running and spike shoes and snacks and beverages for track meets. She has continued to build rapport with these community partners and in-return, many of them have committed to providing their support each school year.
Mrs. Sedlar is also on the Senior Prom Committee. She helps to fundraise for prom activities and also secures discounts for students for their prom attire and accessories. This is a great help especially for students who have challenges paying for prom. Ms. Sedlar is a great planner and is always coming up with ideas on how to make the lives of our students better. She is committed to making the school environment the best place to be for students. While her daughter is graduating this year, Mrs. Sedlar has decided to enroll her niece into Hamilton so she can continue her volunteer support. Thank you, Mrs. Sabrina Sedlar for your generous commitment demonstrated towards our staff and students at Hamilton High School.
Dr. Mark and Dr. Moira Bruce were nominated by Megan Lee, teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School. Dr. Mark and Moira Bruce have been serving for over 12 years at Hawthorne. Their specialty is working with first grade students with their reading comprehension. They assist students weekly with letter recognition, phonics, and fluency. They are committed to providing each student with one-on-one support as needed and are patient with each student as they acquire new reading skills. Through proper assessment, Dr. Mark and Moira Bruce seek out additional materials outside of school to help the students develop their reading skills. They are truly dedicated to making sure our students have an extra opportunity to become successful readers. Thank you, Dr. Mark and Moira Bruce, for your many years of service to the students at Hawthorne Elementary School.
Douglas Smith was nominated by Ms. Alida Harris, teacher at Hartford University School. Mr. Smith has been a volunteer for the past 5 years and had the privilege of meeting Ms. Harris in her first year at Hartford. As a new teacher, there is so much to learn in a short period of time. Mr. Smith definitely understood this as he was a retired teacher from Hartford himself. To ensure Ms. Harris had a smooth transition, he took it upon himself to share everything he knew. Ms. Harris was truly grateful for this.
Mr. Smith has been a very valuable support to students at Hartford. His primary job is to assist students with math and reading. He has given them the extra support they need to help them become successful. Mr. Smith also facilitates speaking circles which provides students with an outlet to do their work and to express themselves. In its first year of implementation, students discussed the topic of civil rights and the importance of treating people with love and respect. Students have also been able to talk about anger and how to work through solutions to overcome. These experiences have provided students with beautiful memories that are often expressed to Mr. Smith with hugs of gratitude. This year, one student expressed his success in taking the advice Mr. Smith shared with him about anger. While circles are not implemented by the school, they definitely are needed. “It gives students a chance to know that we’re listening to them and that their ideas are important”, says Ms. Harris. Thank you, Mr. Smith, for your compassion and dedication to the students at Hartford University School!