As busy Pioneer High School students, it would be commendable if Erica and Katie Liu volunteered their time occasionally.
But these sisters have such fond memories of being in Brian Schad’s fifth grade at Lawton Elementary, and they have such a heart for helping younger students, that the two volunteer in Schad’s class two or three times a week every week.
“In my 38 years of teaching, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Schad, who is one of the district’s longest-serving teachers, having spent all but a few months of his career at Lawton. “Erica is not just working with students, but is actually teaching the lessons. I assist her instead of her assisting me.”
This is not part of the Trail Blazer or any other Pioneer-related program for credit. Erica, a sophomore, started helping in Schad’s class last fall after she stopped into school to visit him on a day she visited her brother, a first grader there. Sister, Katie, a freshman, followed suit soon after.
“I discovered I really liked it,” Erica recalls. “It reminds me of the fun times in fifth grade.
“I like seeing them smile when we walk in,” says Katie. “It puts me in a good mood.”
“They do all of this work after they get out of school on days that they can spare an hour of their time before getting their own homework done,” says Schad.
In the last several months, the Liu sisters have:
- Worked with a group of four fifth graders on a science-related research project that was submitted for judging. They helped out after school, in the evenings and on weekends.
- Worked with a group of eight students on an American history simulation. They each developed a website for the students to use that described the different activities that the students needed to complete and developed the activities.
- Worked to help develop a book about the history of Lawton Elementary School that was auctioned off to raise money for the PTO.
- Helped the fifth grade students develop a class newspaper.
And they are working on a book with Schad for Hidden Lake Gardens, an 800-acre garden run by Michigan State University in Tipton. When it was discovered that the gardens did not have a book to sell in its gift shop with pictures and information about the gardens, Schad, Katie, and Erica volunteered to create one for them. Each week the three drive to Hidden Lake Gardens to work on this project. The girls are also working on a poem that will be intertwined throughout this colorful book.
Schad said he’s never seen anyone willing to give of themselves to help so many others.
“They never do anything for recognition,” he said. “They do things just because of who they are. I think it really reflects the true image of what the Ann Arbor Schools strives to instill within each of our students.
“It feels like a family,” Erica says of Lawton.
“She hasn’t called me `Grandpa’ yet,” quips Schad with a smile.
Each sister says that helping the fifth graders is more enjoyable than the other things they could be doing at the end of their school day at Pioneer.
The feeling is mutual. Schad said his students ask every morning if Katie and Erica will be there that day.
“I don’t even consider them volunteers anymore,” he says. “I consider them to be part of the class. They’re just part of us. I’ve thanked them many times but it never seems like enough.”
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