The search is on for CAST volunteers

Can you give some time to help children in the public school system?
First, the facts: Dorchester County Public Schools are on an upward trajectory.   Over the last four years, the drop-out rate has decreased by a quarter. The amount of college scholarship money awarded to the growing number of high school graduates has quadrupled. While test scores vary annually according to cohort, the overall trend over the past few years has been rising. Behavior is improving – school suspensions have decreased 40 percent over the last six years. The quality of education received by each young person in Dorchester County is improving year by year.
But imagine how much quicker the quality of that education could improve, how much better the young people of our community could be served with a growing contribution of effort from the larger community. Community and Schools Together (CAST), an initiative of Dorchester County Public Schools, bridges the gap between community and schools, providing an easy and mutually beneficial way for Dorchester County residents to support our schools. The search is on for a CAST of 1000 – a thousand Dorchester Countians to give of their time and talents through volunteering directly in the schools to ensure this county’s young people have the best possible start in life.
Young people can be supported in many ways. Elementary-age children are looking for those willing to help them with reading, spelling or arithmetic on an individual basis. Middle school and high school-age youngsters are looking for individual tutoring in various subjects. Elementary and middle school children are looking for Character Coaches, people willing to visit their classrooms weekly to deliver positive character messages based on trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Schools are looking for people who can help in the media centers (libraries), computer labs, offices.  Do you have a particular interest to share?  Consider this your invitation to join the CAST.
And serving our young people by volunteering in a school can be rewarding in many ways. Are you a young person, perhaps a recent high school or college graduate, exploring career options or looking to build your resume? Are you a parent or grandparent, wanting to learn more about our schools to better understand and support your own child’s education? Are you an empty-nester, missing the fun and laughter of children and young people? Are you retired, enjoying your freedom but also missing the challenge of the workplace? Volunteer through CAST and help others while helping yourself.
Through CAST, you can help put the public back in public schools. Successful schools are not isolated institutions, shut away from the communities they serve. The purpose of schools is to prepare young people to take their place in the community; integration of school and community strengthens both. Schools are regularly asked to address issues that are not of a purely educational nature, problems that are community-based: hunger, lack of access to health care, family breakdown. The circle is completed when the community supports schools in their educational role by augmenting the work done by education professionals and building supportive relationships with pupils, reinforcing the message as to the importance of learning.
And providing the best possible education for the young people of our community is not just a moral imperative or matter of civic pride; it’s a matter of dollars and cents. Good schools are an economic boon to a community. They help attract new businesses which boost the tax base and provide jobs. Business owners want to move their businesses and entrepreneurs want to start their businesses where employees will be satisfied with the education their children receive and where they can recruit a well-educated  workforce. Good schools increase property values by making the community a pleasant and sought-after place to live. Good schools produce a skilled workforce that provides high-quality goods and services. Research by the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University estimates that for every $1 spent on education on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, $1.95 funnels back into the region.
Dorchester County’s economy took a hard hit in the general economic downturn of the last few years. But here’s another fact: like the schools, the local economy is on an upward trajectory. In the first half of this year, the County’s unemployment rate has fallen faster than both the state and national rates and is now at its lowest rate since 2008. Cultural and sporting events such as development of historical ties to Harriet Tubman and the Ironman triathlon are attracting unprecedented number of visitors to the area, visitors with money to spend with local businesses that support local jobs. Opportunities abound for Dorchester County to move forward through community effort; every Dorchester County resident has a stake in this success.
Our schools are poised to be a vital part of this synergy of a county on the rise.  And, while schools are led by education professionals, the untapped resources, skills and talent in the community can strengthen their work, help fast-track Dorchester County Public Schools to greater success. The Superintendent of Schools’ Advisory Board, comprised of several dozen local residents from many walks of life, has identified five categories of activities by which the community can support the schools: teach, tutor, confer, mentor, recognize. Join the supporting CAST by volunteering in a school and you could be a star to a child.
To find out more about Community and Schools Together (CAST) and volunteering in Dorchester County Public Schools, you are invited to attend an Open Morning at the Dorchester County Public Library in Cambridge on Sept. 4 from 10 a.m. to noon. Or contact Volunteer Coordinators Valerie Goff (goffv@dcpsmd.org) or Tanisha Armstrong (armstrongt@dcpsmd.org) at 410-228-4747, ext. 1008 for more information.
Editor’s note: Ms. Goff works for the Dorchester County Board of Education.

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