Teachable Moments: Plano-Coudon employees become classroom volunteers

For one day, the job topping Project Manager Milan Devon’s work list involved crafting origami houses with seven- and eight-year olds.

Earlier this year, Devon responded to a call for volunteers circulated at Plano-Coudon and offered to give a presentation in a classroom lead by a Teach For America (TFA) instructor. Equipped with his professional background, a lesson plan, guidance from TFA and his considerable origami skills, Devon stepped nervously in front of a Grade Two class at Henderson Hopkins Elementary School.  He drew the children into a discussion on what construction is and how it involves a wide variety of workers from plumbers, electricians and bricklayers to engineers and architects. He showed them photographs of projects he had built in California, New York and Detroit.

“I wanted to show them that construction is a great means to get anywhere in the world because there are always construction projects to work on,” he said.

Then Devon pulled out the origami papers and lead the students into their own construction projects. Each child folded an origami house, attaching it to a construction-paper base, and used craft supplies to create whatever they wanted on the ‘property,’ from basketball hoops to tree houses.

“It was amazing to see the creativity and ingenuity of these kids,” he said. “One little girl made this amazing, 3D piece of art. I thought, wow, you’re going to be an engineer.”

For Devon, the Teach For America session was an invaluable opportunity to provide a little face-to-face service to Baltimore children.

“It’s one of the reasons that I joined Plano-Coudon. The company has a policy of ongoing outreach to the community which facilitates a lot of opportunities to give back and coincides with my personal views,” he said.

And Devon isn’t the only Plano-Coudon employee who returned to the classroom this year to give – and receive – some lessons.

Carpenter Foreman Garth Childs, along with other staff members, joined a volunteer effort by United Way of Central Maryland and spent half a day at Dundalk Elementary, teaching first graders. To celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss, they read “The Cat in the Hat,” helped children color and construct their own Cat hats, and asked them questions about the story, like what would they do if the Cat came to their house.

“The answers were interesting,” Childs said. “Some kids said, ‘I would smack him because I don’t like him.’ But a lot of other kids just wanted to play Minecraft with the Cat in the Hat.”

However, Childs, whose wife is a teacher, said the simple act of taking time to read with children is important and gratifying.

“When we started raising our kids, my wife said that no matter what, we have got to read to these kids every night for at least five minutes. I have seen the educational ramifications of that. All of my kids’ grades are way better than mine were,” he said. “For some less privileged kids, events like this can help. It can show that reading should be a  big part of every day.”

For some area nonprofits, such volunteer efforts are also essential.

“We could not be more grateful for our relationship with Plano-Coudon,” said Tracie Lefevre, Managing Director of Development for Teach For America–Baltimore. “Not only do they raise money and awareness through their golf tournament every year, but they also come into our classroom and serve as guest teachers. They take their expertise in contracting and they develop these lessons which are extremely personal to them and relate so well to the content areas that the children are studying. It makes for a really amazing day.”

Volunteers are the foundation of the United Way of Central Maryland’s (UWCM) efforts to advance financial stability, health and education, said Beth Littrell, Volunteer Coordinator for UWCM.

“It is also a good chance for volunteers to see what is going on out in the community. Every time, the volunteers say, ‘I had no idea that it was like this out here,’” Littrell said. “For the students, schools are still a place to learn and have fun, and maybe escape from some of the bad things that are going on. So the kids are engaged and they are having fun and they are telling you stories. They want you to stay and they are giving you hugs. It is heartwarming.”