Spotlights
FACE of the Week: Elinor Crowell, volunteer at Franklin Elementary School
As part of BCPS’ commitment to ongoing Family And Community Engagement, the “FACE of the Week” is a new, regular feature of the BCPS website that introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS special – our volunteers and PTA members.
11/17/2015

Spotlight

At first, Elinor "Lee" Crowell had to be cagey about volunteering at Franklin Elementary School, even surreptitious. If her son, Matt, caught sight of her in the hallways or through an open door, things might not have gone well.

"It was difficult," she recalls of those dark days three years ago. "He would get upset if he saw me. He couldn’t tolerate seeing me there. But being in a school and volunteering was natural for me."

With time, Matt progressed. Soon, seeing his mother in a classroom became a source of pride. And today, Crowell says, the 9-year-old "gets a big smile on his face. He knows he’ll get a big hug from me, and then he just keeps on going."

Matt, a Grade 2 student who is on the autism spectrum, is a big part of why Crowell spends at least five hours a week at Franklin Elementary. Her volunteering is not only altruistic but intensely personal as well, part of her responsibility as a parent. "When my daughter was young, I realized that the level of her education correlated directly to my level of parental involvement," she says.

Labor of Love

Crowell was already a seasoned volunteer by the time Matt was born. Her first-born daughter, Elinor, had been diagnosed with ADHD as a first-grader in Virginia, and becoming involved with her education seemed a natural fit for Crowell. She sensed that when her children saw her in school or at school events, "they know that I think their education is important."

Today, Elinor is studying Russian at George Mason University in northern Virginia.

As a child, Crowell’s family had moved frequently, following her father’s career in the technology industry but always considering Virginia "home base." So school – wherever it was located - also became a constant touchstone for Crowell, she says, a value she carried into adulthood. "And if I was going to push the importance of getting an education, I thought maybe I should practice what I preach," she says, leading to a return to the University of Virginia as an adult to complete a degree in social science.

Living in Orange, Va., she became immersed in school- and youth-related activities, becoming a founding member in 2005 of the local Lake Youth Foundation, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to funding programs promoting community service, citizenship, and leadership among young people.

But in 2011, everything changed. Her husband took a job in Baltimore, and the family moved north, settling in Reisterstown by 2012. They chose Baltimore County and Reisterstown specifically for the quality of schools, she says.

She found a welcoming culture at Franklin Elementary, led by Mertes, an atmosphere that encouraged and appreciated volunteers and made her feel at home as she and Matt adjusted to their new surroundings.

Today, Crowell gives her time and talents to the school’s primary grades, spending much of her time in the Franklin library.  She was attracted to working in the school’s library, given her lifelong love of literature. "I’m a voracious reader," she says. "I love the library; that’s one place where you can be very helpful, and that’s very satisfying to me."

Crowell also volunteered at Franklin Elementary to serve as a special education liaison, a position that focuses on helping other families with special needs children.

"In her capacity as a special education liaison, she is frequently seen providing support and advice for families," says Franklin Elementary’s principal, Ben Mertes. "The room in which the families meet weekly is made welcoming, with easily visible literature, thanks to the creativity of Mrs. Crowell. Franklin Elementary School is fortunate to have her knowledge and partnership on this journey."

During special events at the school, Crowell will happily set up and staff a table where other parents can ask questions and get answers about special education resources in Baltimore County.

"Having another parent who has been through this is very helpful, especially when they are just starting the special education process," Crowell says. "Things like learning about respite care, or tutoring, or other things; you just don’t think about things like that until you’re knee-deep in it."

Jean Considine, parent coordinator for the BCPS Special Education Resource Center, credits Crowell with jumping into the role and being a valuable connection for parents. "We don’t want parents to feel isolated, so someone like Lee provides a nice way to connect with parents and get them information," Considine says. "She’s been a great support to us as well, in terms of her interactions and her effort. She’s exceptional."

"Exhausting, but . . ."

Crowell encourages every parent to consider volunteering, if just for a little bit.

"I see how hard these teachers work, and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know that I can help them. Matt gets so much support from them that anything I can do for them is important," she says. "I’ll be driving by the school and see the cars of teachers I know there in the parking lot at 7:30 or 8 at night, or see them early in the morning with frost on them – so I know they’ve been here for a while. That’s extraordinarily satisfying – to know we have such incredible teachers."

She advises anyone thinking of volunteering to avoid the "all or none" trap: "Sometimes we feel that if we can’t do a lot, we can’t do anything. . . . .But you don’t have to do a lot. You do what you can do."

Crowell’s next challenge is learning how to staff the BCPS Parentmobile, an award-winning converted school bus that visits countywide events and schools as it serves as a mobile classroom stocked with resources about BCPS and educational opportunities. She tells fellow parents about the resources and information available to them, from Parent University to school-based resources, and lets them know the benefits of volunteering. "One other thing I tell them is a perk of the job," she says. "If they volunteer to do special events, I tell them ‘You get the best parking spots!’"

For now, however, her weekdays at Franklin Elementary are plenty busy. On one recent weekday, she worked with Robbie Stout’s kindergarten students during library story time, while one student showed off a lost tooth and two others got silly during a class pantomime of "Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s Farm."

From a corner of the library, Stout looked on and marveled at how well Crowell related with her students. "She’s a dedicated worker, and she knows the children by name," Stout says. "She’s very inclusive of students with special needs, and her expectations are very developmentally appropriate. She’s very professional." 

Crowell appreciates the trust teachers have in her and her fellow volunteers at Franklin, but it’s more than that, of course. "It’s both (work and fun)," she says later, "but it’s always enriching. By the end of the day, I may be exhausted, but I have a smile on my face."

To learn more about volunteering in BCPS, visit http://www.bcps.org/community/volunteer_info/.  

For more photos, visit the BCPS Flickr site at www.flickr.com/photos/bcps/albums/72157658951483434.

Story and photos by Charles Herndon, specialist, BCPS Family and Community Engagement.
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