Judy Weinberger, (right), a volunteer at J.S. Jenks Elementary School, reads with second grader Terrance Harshaw. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Judy Weinberger, 61, of Lafayette Hill, is something of a classroom fairy godmother. She volunteers every Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon at J.S. Jenks Elementary School, 8301 Germantown Ave.

Weinberger is a retired Philadelphia elementary school teacher and reading coach. Weinberger worked in the Philadelphia School District for 33 years before retiring five years ago. She is just one of six volunteers who serves at Jenks as part of the Retired Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP) of Philadelphia.

Sandi Friedman, program coordinator at RSVP of Philadelphia, said the organization has been placing men and women 55 years and older in volunteer positions in nonprofit organizations throughout Philadelphia for 42 years. RSVP of Philadelphia was one of the first RSVP organizations in the nation, according to Friedman.

Friedman said the organization has evolved from doing all kind of volunteer word to providing volunteer opportunities that really have an impact on the community.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of retired teachers or professionals who are willing to tutor students in a variety of areas,” Friedman said. “We have been very successful with this program. The principals and teachers are very happy to have an extra hand in the classroom. Our volunteers not only help the children who may be falling behind but we also provide one-on-one for students who are advanced.”

She added that the organization not only provides volunteers in the classroom but it also provides volunteers for the library or other activities, such as art, music and financial literacy.

“We have a ready core of people who have their clearances and are willing to go into Jenks, right now,” Friedman said.

Volunteers like Weinberger are just one of the reasons why the school continues to not only survive but thrive. Weinberger is modest and doesn’t like to brag, but she is truly devoted to the children at Jenks. She buys books for the classroom library, headphones for the kids to use in the computer lab and occasionally will give a child pretzel or lunch money if it gets misplaced or lost.

The second-grade teachers said she never hesitates to do anything – from sharpening pencils, to reading stories, to reinforcing spelling and vocabulary words and, most importantly, working one-on-one with students, who need extra help with reading.

Weinberger even goes on class trips. Recently, she chaperoned students at a production of “Cinderella” at the Arden Theater in the Old City section of Philadelphia.

Asked why she volunteers at Jenks, Weinberger replied, “I was an elementary school teacher for years, and I just want to be able to use my skills.”

“I really love working with the kids – especially helping them to read,” said Weinberger, who has a master’s degree in reading. “I want them to feel comfortable around books. Books can teach them a lot of different things.”

She added that she loves watching them become confident in their reading skills.

“I want them to love reading books,” Weinberger said.

“The children really like the one-on-one attention that she [Weinberger] gives them because she is so positive,” said Tish Boyle, a second-grade teacher at Jenks. “It makes them feel really good about themselves. When students are struggling, and somebody says you are doing a great job, it goes a long way.”

Weinberger said that while she has volunteered at many other schools in the past, she loves how everyone at Jenks is friendly, polite and helpful.

“Jenks has a very nurturing environment,” she said. “I would love to come back next year.”