In light of the many changes made to public education in recent times, some would wonder if this still is true. This is the story of how one simple act of volunteering set a young woman on a totally different life course and how her journey has the potential to change the lives of thousands of young people in our community. I tell it with the hope that others will join in volunteering in our public schools.

Evelyn Perez was like many young Latina children in Winston-Salem who entered kindergarten at Hall-Woodward Elementary School in 1999. She was the oldest child in her family and spoke little English, but she was the unofficial translator for her parents — a 5-year-old child in an adult world. I was assigned to work with her using a literacy, comprehension and problem-solving curriculum designed to help children make significant gains and move toward attaining grade proficiency.

Once a week from October through April, I went to Evelyn’s school and worked with her on these learning problems. We became friends, and, after my own daughter started school, I could see all the advantages I was able to give her, just by speaking English, reading to her and helping her.

Through the hard work of her teachers, and I hope to some extent, my involvement, Evelyn soon caught up with her classmates. She went on to attend Clemmons Middle School and graduated from Parkland High School. Then, because of her hard work and dedication, she received a scholarship to attend Wake Forest University — the first in her family to graduate from high school and then from college. At Wake Forest, Evelyn majored in elementary education.

Today she is a first-year teacher at Smith Farm Elementary School, teaching kindergarten. About her experiences at Hall-Woodward, here is what she says: “I will be teaching kindergarten this year! I met someone from the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce and she spoke about the reading program you all TSILL have! Amazing program; not only taught me how to read, but instilled in me a JOY for reading!”

In the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools, there are literally thousands of Evelyns — young children in kindergarten, first and second grades who need a little assistance and encouragement from a carrying adult to believe that they can succeed. Many of these children come from homes that are economically disadvantaged, where parents and other caregivers may not have the education to help their children or may be working several jobs to support their families.

The school system has three goals:

  • Have 90 percent of third-grade students reading on or above grade level by 2020
  • Close the achievement gap by 10 percent while increasing the performance of all by 2018
  • Graduate 90 percent of students by 2018

This is a tall order and can’t be done without the support of the entire community — teachers, administrators, parents, family, students and you.

Evelyn Perez is making her re-investment into the youth of our community by becoming a teacher, as are so many other teachers in our schools. Won’t you help by volunteering to work with a young student in the Winston-Salem Chamber’s Corporate Volunteer Program? It just takes an hour a week, and you could change a life.