LEESVILLE, La. -- Behind every great teacher at Parkway Elementary School in Leesville, Louisiana, is a village of parent volunteers to support them. Two years ago, the Nurturing Educational Support for Teachers and Students (N.E.S.T.S.) program came to be, and has grown to include approximately 46 parent volunteers.
Spearheading N.E.S.T.S. is Adrian Todd, a Vernon Parish Military Student Transition Consultant, who said the program is meant to promote parent engagement.
"N.E.S.T.S. is designed to solicit parent volunteerism to support the academic and school activities provided at Parkway," Todd said. "It was really created out of a real need or desire to get our parents more engaged in the school. The more engaged parents are in the school, the better the outcomes for the children."
N.E.S.T.S. is completely volunteer run, and consists of parents taking on responsibilities such as assisting in the front office, making copies for teachers and staff, delivering copies to teachers, helping teachers create material for educational activities, supporting school fundraising efforts and more.
Once a month, the volunteers also supervise students during lunch, so that teachers can take their full lunch break.
"It's to have the additional support at the school so the teachers can really focus on their work, which is to promote the academics of those children," Todd said. "The services the volunteers provide for this school is invaluable. If you didn't know better, you would think they were one of the staff because they are there, they're committed, and they're willing to do whatever work is necessary in order to get the job is done."
The program is led by a parent committee of four volunteers, leading the efforts for the school. Todd said that as a committee, they decide what activities volunteers will help support each school year -- whether that be selling concessions as part of fundraising efforts, working in the classrooms, or getting information out about the school.
Additionally, all N.E.S.T.S. parent volunteers meet every month to discuss what is going on at the school.
"Everybody has a voice at the table," Todd said. "We are thrilled we have parents that bring in another perspective, and have new and creative ideas of things we can do at the school that we love to hear about."
Among these voices is Crystal Ellison, who has been part of the N.E.S.T.S. program since moving to the Fort Polk area in August.
Volunteers take on many tasks to assist teachers and staff at Parkway
Elementary School, including decorating doors for the school's Family Fall Festival.
"We do what people would say is very small, but it is the biggest help to the teachers because they don't have to worry about that," Ellison said. "It's been a great opportunity for me."
Ellison had always been part of Parent/Teacher Organizations at her children's schools at previous duty stations.
"We're a military family and this is our seventh duty station, and when my children had to come here it was the first time my kids had to attend school off post" Ellison said. "My son had a hard time transitioning from a military school to an off-post school, so I thought I would go see if they needed help."
While picking up a volunteer packet at Parkway, Ellison ran into Todd who encouraged her to participate in the N.E.S.T.S. program.
"Her welcoming face got me to start coming out here," Ellison said. "And when I started coming out here, the people, the teachers and the principal, they all treat you like they need you. They treat you like what you are doing is so helpful, and it made me want to keep coming back."
Ellison feels that it is her responsibility to support her children's school.
"They are providing a service of education to my child and I appreciate what they do," she said. "I want to give back to that."
By volunteering, she also feels more integrated in her children's education.
"This program helps parents be able to come in and see what their children are doing and be a part of it. This allows you to be a part of your child's growth and learning," Ellison said. "It shows the kids that parents and the community are here for them. It opens up the door of for the students being able to talk to us if something is wrong, and opens up communication within the community so parents know what's going on at the school with their children."
Todd wants to see the program continue to grow at Parkway Elementary School. Future plans include brainstorming additional volunteer opportunities for parents only available in the evenings or weekends, and really focusing on increasing fundraising activities.
"We want to expand and spread the wealth so people don't get exhausted," Todd said. "We want to keep people excited and motivated about coming here to volunteer."
She also hopes that this is a program that can be duplicated at every school in Vernon Parish.
"Every school needs the support of parents. Educating children is not only a responsibility of the school, it is a responsibility of the community," Todd said. "This is our school's effort to bring in the neighborhood to support the children. It's like wraparound services for children, providing whatever is needed to make sure that our children can be successful when they go out into the real world."
For those interested in becoming a volunteer in the Parkway N.E.S.T.S program, applications are available in the school's front office.