Family Leadership Award Winner Glenda White Shows Us the Power of Presence at James J. Sullivan School

The age-old saying that kindness and joy are contagious is incredibly visible in parent volunteer Glenda White. Glenda is a parent volunteer at James J. Sullivan School in Northeast Philadelphia, and it is apparent that volunteering is not a chore nor an obligation for Glenda but an active and joyful choice that she makes. Glenda has four children who have attended or currently attend Sullivan. About two years ago, Glenda paid a visit to her son’s class at Sullivan. She was immediately struck by how the other children ran up to her, started hugging her, and asked for her attention. She was drawn to the kids’ love for her, which she felt was “unconditional.”

Parent Volunteer Glenda White accepts the Family Leadership Award with FACE Liaison Joy McIntosh (right) from Superintendent Dr. William Hite (left) and Robert F. Smith, Comcast Region Vice President, Community Investments in October.

Glenda saw that teachers could really use more help in the classroom, so she wanted to come in to help more often. Glenda states that she feels that parents don’t always realize what teachers and principals go through, especially with kids’ behaviors. She feels that if parents realized what hard work it can be to manage so many students’at one time, they would better understand why teachers need help. As Glenda began to visit her son’s classroom more often to help the teacher, she started to foster deeper relationships with the kids in the class, which made her want to keep coming back. Students would recognize her and happily welcome her as a part of the class.

Glenda started to volunteer five days a week and serve in a Climate Support role not only on her daughter’s floor and classroom but also throughout the building. One of the major ways that she would support the climate of the school would be by monitoring the hallways. Many days you could see Glenda in the hallways of the school, helping students get to where they need to go. Glenda also hosted lunch bunches with learners, served as a mentor and a school mom, and has been a part of Sullivan’s SAC for the past couple of years. She has become a figure that all staff and students recognize and trust at Sullivan. Joy McIntosh, Sullivan’s Family Engagement Liaison describes Glenda as someone who is, “dedicated to helping Sullivan grow in a positive manner.”

Glenda’s favorite projects at school have been any activities that involve working directly with students. She has especially enjoyed going on trips with the kids and seeing such active engagement and learning in their faces. One trip that Glenda distinctly remembers was a walking tour through Center City and Old City. As the class walked through each building and learned the history of Philadelphia, and she remembers how excited the kids were to reenact and role-play historical scenes. This trip in particular sticks with her because of the ways that kids were learning in such an active and hands-on way outside of the classroom.

When asked what motivates her to be such a regular volunteer, Glenda says that her biggest motivation is the children. Because she has already developed many relationships with the kids, she wants to keep going back to maintain those relationships. Glenda said, “The main reason is the need…I see a need there, so I wanted to help out.” Glenda expressed that she has seen how attentive a child can be once you give him or her one-on-one focus, and she loves being able to give a child that sort of special attention. Joy McIntosh says about Glenda: “She really enjoys helping others and is a genuine person who wants Sullivan to succeed as a school.”

James J. Sullivan School on Ditman Street in the Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia.

Glenda also offers her own advice about how to get engaged in your child’s school: “…Just walk into your school and take time to just observe and look…if you take time to go in and just look…it’ll make a big difference.” Glenda shared that because life gets so busy, she feels like parents sometimes forget that each child has specific needs, which she was able to see firsthand once she volunteered at Sullivan.

Glenda has seen the power of working together as a team with the school. She has seen a world of difference once her own children have seen that she has a united front with the teacher. She says, “Communication is key. Building a bond with the teacher and people at the school means a lot.” And Glenda has been a great model of building such bonds with those at her children’s school. Joy expressed that Glenda has a special knack at building relationships with other families. Glenda is bilingual, so she has been able to encourage other Spanish-speaking parents to volunteer. Through her, several other parents have chosen to volunteer in the building. Through Glenda we can see the power of consistency, presence in a school, and building relationships with students and school staff.