When Ivana Espinet enrolled her son at P.S. 9 two years ago, she knew she wanted to do what she could to improve the school.
Since then, she’s devoted roughly 10 hours a week to the Underhill Avenue elementary school, writing grants for new equipment and books, serving on the school’s leadership team and conducting classes for teachers on how to use “smart boards” and for parents to learn basic computer skills.
The mother of three, who hails from Argentina, has helped set up a garden where students can grow flowers in the spring and worked with other parents to institute a Spanish-English dual language program. She has also secured grants for everything from $1,000 for a teacher’s trout-in-the-classroom program to $4,500 for tables and chairs for an “outdoor classroom” to allow students to do some of their learning outside.
Plus she helps out with special projects in her 6 and 4-year-old sons’ classrooms, such as sewing together a quilt made by the students.
“I’ve worked in education all my life and I feel that the only to make a community work is if everyone participates and does whatever they can,” Espinet said.
For Espinet, who is getting a Ph.D. in urban education at CUNY and also is a consultant at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Center for Technology, the volunteering is based on a strongly held philosophy that schools are linchpins that can either bring a neighborhood up or pull it down.
“I think she sees schools’ missions as not just about teaching individual kids but as anchors for the whole community,” said her husband, Bryce Taylor, who does his share of P.S. 9 volunteering as well.
“Part of it, immediately, it’s about our children. But she also recognizes that if the school is better it helps the whole neighborhood,” he added.
And the strongly held belief has really made a difference at 80 Underhill Avenue, said Charmaine Derrell-Jacob, P.S. 9’s parent coordinator.
“Pretty much she has touched every single facet of helping us improving our school,” she said. “She is not single-minded about her nuclear family and her child’s grade. She’s looking out for the entire school body.”
Know a Prospect Heights volunteer who deserves recognition? E-mail Amy.Clark@patch.com.