by Marjorie Leopold

Every Wednesday 27 K-4 English Language Learners (ELLs) eagerly arrive in the Chambers Elementary School cafeteria for what they’ve dubbed “Fun Day.” The after-school program was started by UIDN and St. John’s Episcopal Church in cooperation with Chambers’ administrators and the support of the Kingston City Schools. We chose Chambers because it has a sizable population of  ELLs and no free after school option, unlike George Washington and Kennedy schools.

Our program is an “enriched” experience for the children because of the caring, commitment, and expertise of our volunteer tutors who include retired educators with backgrounds in literacy, special education, and art as well as high school seniors. Volunteers are genuinely interested in the well-being and growth of the children who, in turn, relish the attention they get from our volunteers. We strive to meet the children where they are as English-language learners and unique individuals. Tutors and children are forming bonds, and the children get along well.

 Storyteller Jill Olesker entertains children and volunteers at the after-school program’s holiday celebration.

We designed the program with specific goals in mind. Children are assigned to one of three groups based on their age and grade. Each group circulates through three structured experiences in different learning spaces designed to meet specific objectives:

  • Literacy activities for improving reading, writing, and overall academic growth;
  • Games and building activities, e.g., trains and Legos, for social and emotional learning; and
  • Creative expression activities such as art projects, salsa dancing, and improvisation.

The Wednesday program kicks off with healthy snacks followed by outdoor play. Karma, a gorgeous golden retriever therapy dog, comes to each “Fun Day,” thanks to his generous owner, one of our special educator volunteer tutors. Karma plays Frisbee with the children and rolls over to have his silky fur patted; he’s especially loving with children who need soothing.

When parents, aunts, and uncles arrive for pick up the children eagerly share their art projects or original writing, a book they read, or the game they mastered. Families know the program is designed especially with their children in mind. Our message is indisputable: we value you and your children, and we’re pleased you’re a part of this community.  Our smiles say it all.

Volunteers Needed

If you have experience and enjoy working with young children and would like to join a cooperative and creative team, please fill out a volunteer form. We know volunteers are busy people but hope you will commit at least one Wednesday a month, giving you and the children a chance to get to know one another. We will provide guidance and support with particular activities and children as needed.

The Kingston City Schools require volunteers to submit references. Both the school district and St. Johns Church recommend child safety training, which is available free from St. Johns. For details, email Michele Riddell at or text her 845-443-9821.

Marjorie Leopold is co-coordinator of UIDN’s Schools Outreach & Support Group and co-founder of the Chambers English Language Learners After-School Program. Get more school and education resources here.