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Program teams Miller with students at IS 126

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Throughout the year, Miller (D-Manhattan) has spent two to four hours with middle school social studies students at IS 126 in Long Island City.

"It was great," Miller said during a school year-end celebration at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park last Thursday to honor this year's Learning Leaders.

"There's nothing wrong in schools that can't be fixed by what's right with our communities," Miller told the more than 100 Learning Leaders and their families at the event, during which he never missed an opportunity to take a shot at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's controversial but much-touted test-based bid to end social promotion.

New York City schools can be improved, he said, "if we believe in our children and don't focus on flunking them."

Volunteers in the Learning Leaders program receive three to four training sessions at their local schools. Then they generally spend about two to three hours a week assisting teachers in the classroom, helping administrators with discipline and counseling high schoolers about college, among other things, said Learning Leaders Board Chairman Jeremy Koch.

"There's no better way to show community strength than (with) a veritable army of volunteers," Koch said. "A lot of it sort of has to do with that type of personal attention that can't be provided (by one teacher) in a class of 35 students."

This year - one of the best on record for Learning Leaders - the organization placed about 14,000 volunteers in city schools, according to the organization's preliminary estimates.

"This year we had a great year because of a new person in the school called the parent coordinator," said Learning Leaders Executive Director and President Digna Sanchez.

She pointed out "14,000 - that's an army."

Parent coordinators, a newly created position, joined public schools' regular staff this year as part of a city Department of Education initiative.

When the parent coordinators began looking for volunteers and to channel parent interest, they turned to Learning Leaders, Sanchez said.

Of the group's volunteers, 70 percent are parents with children in the schools, Koch said. But the parent volunteers often stay on beyond their children's enrollment.

Rochdale Village native Joan Brown has been a Learning Leader for 13 years, helping out at PS 15 in Springfield Gardens with everything from lunchroom duty to reading with students who are being disciplined.

"I do whatever the principal assigns me to do," said the 58-year-old mother of three. Mostly, she said, her duties include "spending time with (the students) and telling them someone cares."

Clara Alonso, a parent coordinator at IS 5, said she wanted to be more involved in her children's education than her parents were in hers. Before she moved into her position at IS 5, the Elmhurst resident served as a Learning Leader tutoring students in reading and math. As part of the program, she also got to rub shoulders with first lady Laura Bush, introducing her on a visit to Queens.

"It was the biggest experience of my lifetime," she said. "It was an honor for me."

For more information on volunteering, visit www.learningleaders.org, or call 212-213-3370.

Updated 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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