ECFS Roundtable: Meet Our Volunteers

22 Apr 2021
ByMolly Alpern, Communications Manager

Ethical Culture Fieldston School students are introduced to service learning in the classroom starting in the lower schools, but for many students, they’re learning by example from their parents, guardians, or caregivers. 

Volunteers have a presence in all areas of the School and are often hard at work alongside faculty and staff. In any normal year, Admissions volunteers lead tours for prospective families, P+T volunteers organize book fairs, trustees meet to make key decisions about the direction of the School, Fieldston Alumni Network (FAN) volunteers plan alumni networking gatherings, and Orange Fund volunteers convene on campus to plan fundraising activities.

But when the School moved to remote learning last spring, the volunteer programs were also radically reorganized to take place virtually. Despite the changes, volunteers were undeterred. Board meetings moved online, alumni events took place over Google Meet, and prospective families met with admissions volunteers virtually. 

Cognizant of the increased pressures on the faculty during remote and hyflex learning, the P+T volunteers worked to not only foster strong lines of communication between parents and teachers, but also make sure the faculty felt appreciated. Tom Fiorella, Manager, Parent Programs, says, “The P+T did a wonderful job responding to the pandemic, re-conceiving our traditional parent and family programs and working hard to constructively and collaboratively share feedback from fellow parents with the School’s administrative staff.” 

In the fall, with the School facing increased expenses for the equipment and COVID-19 testing required to reopen its campuses, Orange Fund volunteers answered the call and helped raise crucial funds for the School on Giving Tuesday. Volunteers found creative ways to get the word out using WhatsApp groups, handwritten notes, and texts to fellow ECFS community members. “Our volunteers provide connections to our entire community. The success of Giving Tuesday 2020 was deeply impacted by the relationships that our volunteers have in the School,” says Rose Turshen, Director of Annual Giving. “They amplified the message to every corner of the School community in those person-to-person interactions and shared why philanthropy at ECFS matters.”

In recognition of National Volunteer Month, we invited a few of our volunteers to share with us why they volunteer and what they’d say to someone curious about getting involved.

How long have you been an ECFS volunteer, and what inspired you to get involved? 

Princess Prince-McCoade P’22, P’27, P’31, P+T volunteer and Orange Fund volunteer: I have three daughters that attend ECFS: Timia, Amira, and Zoi. When Timia began Kindergarten at Fieldston Lower 12 years ago, I immediately sought out volunteer opportunities. Initially, it was in a more micro-capacity, chaperoning class trips or volunteering at one-day events at the School, like the book fairs and photo day. Throughout the years, I have volunteered in several other roles, like Class Parent, Form Coordinator, and Grade Chair, as well as with various committees, including the All School Multicultural Committee and the Orange Fund. More recently, I participated in more P+T leadership capacities. My inspiration for being involved as a volunteer is rooted in the idea that our children are always watching us, and ideally, we should model behavior that we would want them to emulate. I felt that it was important to model to my children what being an active member of a community is, even if at times it may be challenging or feel intimidating.

Rosalind Clay Carter, Trustee: I have been an ECFS volunteer for more than 18 years. I started when my daughter was in Kindergarten and volunteered frequently during her 13 years at ECFS. There was a gap in my volunteering upon her graduation in 2011; however, I returned a few years later as a trustee and will soon complete six years as a trustee.

I was inspired to volunteer because, as a parent, it was a natural extension of my relationship with my daughter to be involved with her education, interests, and activities. Many years ago, there was a perception that volunteering was for moms who did not work outside of the home. I was thrilled to get a phone call from a Fieldston Lower Co-Chair who was trying to increase involvement of parents who worked outside of the home. Volunteering provided an opportunity to meet other parents, faculty, and school administrators, providing a connection to the school community, as we were not a legacy ECFS family.

Zach Resnick ’99, P’31, FAN volunteer: I have been an ECFS volunteer for the past four years. As an alum, I have always felt a strong connection to the School, but I was really inspired to give back to the community in a more meaningful way when I became an Ethical Culture parent. I’d like to think that whatever time or resources I can give back to ECFS will help foster the incredible school community and further the mission of the School.

What’s a favorite memory from your time volunteering with the School?

Jerome Hairston P’27, P’33, Admissions volunteer: During one of the virtual sessions discussing the learning experience for incoming Pre-K students, my wife and I enjoyed helping prospective families relate to education at ECFS. Parents were concerned about reading requirements and whether the School was delayed in teaching children how to read and do homework. After discussing how ECFS teaches reading and math experientially, my wife and I simply shared the homework our daughter had done during a remote session. In an instant, it seemed that all the parents’ anxieties were addressed once they got a taste of what was being done. Parents realized that you may not need a lot of homework for early education when the canvas goes beyond workbooks.

Prince-McCoade: I have such fond memories of my time volunteering at several events, but particularly the Fieldston Lower 5th Grade Carnival, first as the 5th Grade Chair with Timia and last year as a P+T Fieldston Lower Division Co-Chair supporting the 5th Grade Chairs and students of Amira’s cohort. Each time was uniquely special, but I would be remiss not to mention how important it is to have the memories of the joy of gathering outdoors in the fall of 2019 at the splendid Fieldston campus, just a few months before our worlds were all changed in a manner we did not ever imagine.

Resnick: I have two favorite memories of my time volunteering. The first was spending the afternoon decorating a women's shelter for the holidays in 2019, along with the rest of the FAN Leadership Committee. Spending time with alumni of all ages and working together to make the holidays a bit brighter for the women and children who live in the shelter was powerful and memorable.

My second favorite memory is volunteering at the welcome picnics at Ethical Culture. My wife, Jen, has been Co-Chair of the Welcome Committee for the past three years, and in May, they host a picnic for incoming Pre-K and Kindergarten students. I’ve really enjoyed welcoming families to the School in an informal setting on the Ethical Culture roof and offering myself as a resource.

FAN Leadership Committee volunteering in December 2019

How has the shift to volunteering virtually over the past year changed your experience?

Hairston: Human interaction is always best, but I found the process surprisingly efficient. A lot of it has to do with the acceptance of virtually meeting due to the pandemic.

Resnick: Volunteering virtually has been a vastly different experience. On the one hand, I miss the person-to-person interaction of school events and engaging with members of the ECFS community. However, the silver lining has been that Zoom meetings make it easier to attend in many respects. The virtual setting has allowed more regular and consistent communication and attendance, so it feels like planning and progress have improved.

Prince-McCoade: I volunteered over the summer of 2020, creating the 6th Grade photo book. This tool became super-important and valuable for our 2027 cohort students and families, several of whom to this day still have never met in person, especially some of our families who are completely new to our community. Email communications back and forth over the summer with parents requesting photos and collaborating with my Ethical Culture counterpart and the Fieldston Middle administration, as well as the phenomenal ECFS design team, really helped to foster connection during a time when the entire world was physically disconnected.

How did your relationship with ECFS change after starting to volunteer?

Clay Carter: Once I started volunteering, I felt a stronger connection to the School because I knew more about what was going on in the community, and by volunteering, I learned how to navigate an independent school infrastructure, which was new for me. Being a family of color, our informal lines of communication were not strong, as we did not live in Manhattan, where most families reside, and did not have social connections to other families in the School.

Hairston: Providing a testimonial to prospective parents intensified my appreciation for the wonderful and unique approach ECFS takes to learning.

What would you say to someone who was interested in getting involved as a volunteer?

Resnick: Volunteering at ECFS has added a totally different dimension to my experience as a parent and alum. Not only is it a great way to give back to the School, but it also allows you to meet tons of great people in the ECFS community.

Prince-McCoade: Super-cliché, but… JUST DO IT! There are so many ways that you can participate at ECFS — there is something for everyone. There are various time commitments, diverse levels of involvement and commitment, and at every level, I contend that it has definitely been rewarding. I personally think that once you jump in, you pretty much are hooked and continue to remain connected.

Clay Carter: Do it! I found it really easy to volunteer. You can reach out to a P+T contact or respond to requests for volunteers. I always appreciated the fact there was at least a weekly opportunity to be on campus for a parent or volunteer activity. As a working mom, I relished the thought of being connected to an organization that was central to my daughter's social, emotional, and educational development. 

Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month and thank you to all of our ECFS volunteers! Interested in getting involved? Reach out to Tom Fiorella at tfiorella@ecfs.org to learn more.