When Elizabeth Welch decided to volunteer at a local elementary school, she had no idea how much teaching others would help her learn more about herself.
In their last year at Oliverian, students execute a senior project as the capstone to their core curriculum requirements. This project is the culmination of the many skills they’ve learned at Oliverian: in choosing a project that they are passionate about, students engage their intellectual curiosity; in executing a long-term educational program, they oversee research they care about and manage time to achieve overarching goals; and in directing their own progress with freedom and flexibility, students are empowered to interpret end results and find meaningful answers to the questions they themselves posed.
Oliverian student Elizabeth Welch used her senior project as an opportunity to follow her passion for education. “I knew I wanted to pursue a career in teaching, and I love working with kids. After telling an Oliverian teacher, Bill Kearney, about volunteering at my old elementary school in California, he helped connect me to a local elementary school in Newbury, Vermont where I could get hands-on experience helping out at an after-school program,” Welch explains.
Elizabeth’s work with the elementary school has been a long-term commitment, and, as such, her role has required a great deal of consistency and determination. “I go three days a week to pitch in with the after-school program — organizing things, helping students with everyday problems, and setting up activities,” Elizabeth explains.
To provide these services weekly, Elizabeth has to be there rain or shine. “I’m most proud of going as much as I have,” she shares. “I struggle with anxiety, so sometimes it can be really hard to get up and go when I lack confidence. But, even when I didn’t feel that great or was insecure about my plans for students that day, I still showed up to volunteer and found the confidence to do what I thought was right.”
In the classroom, Elizabeth was able to utilize tools from her own education. “I’m currently taking a psychology class, and it can explain a lot of children’s behavior — from their sense of morality to how they explain things.” Her knowledge of psychology informed her understanding of students’ development and the material she taught.
Elizabeth’s perseverance and dedication have paid off in the form of new accomplishments, professional insights, and personal growth. For example, after volunteering for a few months, Elizabeth led two “activity days,” designated times for students to get creative and learn in the process.
“On the first activity day, I made slime with the older kids — third to sixth graders — and explained the science behind what we were doing. On the second, we made Valentine’s-themed suncatchers with the younger kids, kindergarteners through second graders, and talked about the meaning of the holiday.”
Not only did these activity days allow Elizabeth to craft a lesson plan from start to finish, they gave her a better idea of what future path she might like to take. “After doing the project, I know I want to work with older kids because of the conversations we could have,” she said.
These conversations highlight what Elizabeth most enjoyed about her volunteering — the bonds she created. “I have loved getting to know the kids. They come up to me and say, ‘Miss Elizabeth, guess what happened today?’ They share things and are open with me, and having those relationships with the kids has been the best part.”
Elizabeth, in turn, grew more confident in taking on responsibility. “I realized that when I asked other staff members what to do in a situation, I usually already knew the answer but hadn’t been confident enough to do it. Now I know that I should be self-assured and stop second-guessing myself.”
In addition to her personal success forging relationships with students and becoming more confident in her leadership, Elizabeth has taken a step forward on behalf of Oliverian. “One of the bigger goals of my project was to form connections between our school and the community, to raise awareness that we’re here in the area, so hopefully this will provide more opportunities for people after me to get involved with the elementary school or Newbury.”
Reflecting on what made her senior project special, Elizabeth said, “It was great to be a positive representative of our school.” As she chooses which college she’ll attend to study education, we’re certain she’ll continue to do just that.