DExecuting the Plan
Developing The Initiative
Conduct an initial planning meeting with all initiative partners. Most likely, partners will include the local school superintendent, local food banks, culinary schools or volunteers with experience in food service and nutrition, social service providers, and organizations with experience in volunteer recruitment and management. Relevant partnerships with city agencies should be discussed early in the process.
The planning meeting is an opportunity to:
- Introduce partners and clearly define roles and expectations.
- Determine the initiative’s scope and scale, including how often the Homework Diner will operate (recommend at least once a week during the school year) and how many families will be served.
- Identify the elementary school(s) to pilot the initiative and articulate what will be asked of those schools, including of their teachers and school staff. Ensure that sufficient space (in the school’s cafeteria or gymnasium, for example) will be available for each Homework Diner session.
- Discuss the city services and supports that will be made available to the schools, the volunteers, and participating students and families.
- Based on the above, determine the number and type of volunteers needed for this initiative and identify potential sources of volunteers. Homework Diner can be positioned as a volunteer opportunity for both individuals and groups (e.g., corporate groups, veterans groups, neighborhood associations, faith-based groups, and culinary schools).
- Identify the training that volunteers will receive as part of the initiative (tutoring, homework assistance, etc.), and the person/group responsible for delivering the training.
Identify a dedicated on-site coordinator who recruits volunteers, provides training and technical assistance to the volunteers, leverages community resources, and makes sure that Homework Diner activities are aligned with the core instructional day. The coordinator can be a volunteer, AmeriCorps member, member of the school staff (such as a parent/family coordinator), or community schools coordinator who cultivates partnerships between the school and community stakeholders.
Develop a pipeline for the food supplies. This could involve a partnership with a local food bank, a corporate partnership, or a local nonprofit that redistributes food. Ensure that sufficient food supplies will be available for each planned Homework Diner session. Additionally, determine who will prepare the meals, such as volunteers, students from a local culinary school, a local restaurant, etc. Develop a budget to cover materials and supplies. (See the Resource section for a sample budget.)
Create a project timeline, taking into consideration the following:
- School calendars
- PTA meetings
- Parent-teacher conferences
- Other potential after-school space usage conflicts
- Religious holidays and school breaks
- Develop a communications plan to mobilize, connect and update the volunteers.
Engaging Teachers And Supporting Volunteers
Engaging teachers in the programming is a critical component of this blueprint; a minimum of one teacher per academic grade should be present at each Homework Diner session. However, the on-site coordinator should first consult the school’s principal on any union issues that should be addressed with regard to the teachers’ involvement in Homework Diner. The school may consider providing stipends to teachers for their time, or the principal may organize a rotating schedule for teachers’ participation in Homework Diner. Additionally, the principal may elect to offer teachers comp time for participating in Homework Diner (e.g. “Volunteer at Homework Diner and leave 15 minutes after the students the following Friday!”). Teachers are the experts in the academic strategies and standards that the students are trying to master; they are the most effective resource for guiding the work of volunteers who provide the tutoring, homework help, and other academic supports to the students. During Homework Diner, teachers lead students and parents/caregivers through particular skills, such as division or reading comprehension.
Teacher involvement may also include providing the “homework to-do list” and visuals and/or manipulatives to use during the session. Teachers can loan wall charts, posters, and other materials to be copied by volunteers and kept for weekly Homework Diners, and parents/caregivers and volunteers can assist in providing manipulatives for math (bottle caps/straws, etc.). Particularly in grades K-3, teachers may send out weekly homework assignments on Monday, with all work due on Thursday or Friday. If Homework Diner tutors focus on the weekly homework assignments, then the curriculum is set and the activities will be certain to benefit each student.
In addition to the teachers, other volunteers should be recruited to help, keeping in mind the wide-range of activities needed for Homework Diner, including:
- Setting up school facilities prior to start of each session
- Preparing meals
- Serving meals
- Providing homework assistance to students
- Serving as a “reading buddy” to students
- Providing childcare and enrichment activities for siblings too young to attend school (e.g., songs, rhymes, reading, sorting)
- Providing enrichment activities and support services for parents, caregivers, and entire families
- Cleaning school facilities after each session concludes
Securing Resources For Homework Diner
To successfully execute Homework Diner, the on-site coordinator should make a plan to secure all materials in coordination with identified partners as part of the initial planning meeting. As suggested below, many of the resources can be secured in-kind or at a discounted rate. Consider costs for the following:
- Food for meal preparation. Some food may be donated by the local food bank or a local grocery store, or purchased at a substantial discount through a local food service provider. Private donations might also help cover the food costs.
- Basic equipment such as a refrigerator, plates, tables, chairs, tablecloths, kitchenware, cutlery, and storage units. Using the school’s cafeteria may reduce many of these equipment costs.
- Volunteer background screening fees.
- Food permit.
- Funding for an on-site coordinator’s time (unless this person is a volunteer).
- Portion of the cafeteria manager’s time.
- Homework materials.
- Small stipends for the volunteer educators
Recognizing And Thanking Volunteers
There are numerous ways to recognize volunteer participants who contribute to making Homework Diner a success. The on-site coordinator should be welcoming and energized during training and throughout the course of the programming. Following the conclusion of volunteers’ participation in programming, the on-site coordinator can have students write and send thank you notes to volunteers. Once the metrics have been fully collected, the on-site coordinator should share the impact with the volunteers. Additional quarterly or semiannual progress reports are also encouraged and will help volunteers understand how their efforts contributed to the initiative’s overall and long-term success on academic performance and family engagement. Other sources of volunteer recognition may include the local school board and news media or a joint thank-you letter from the mayor and school superintendent.