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Business Volunteers Make An Impact

Deloitte volunteers plant trees and business ideas at Hybla Valley Elementary.

Hybla Valley Elementary School has a “a blue collar, hard-working, service-oriented community,” says James Dallas, the school’s principal. “They have come to this country to secure a better life for their kids.” Dallas said although Hybla Valley has the highest percentage of children in Fairfax County who are poor, with 76.46 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunches, he and the staff look on the challenges this presents as “a real opportunity … We have high expectations for our children and we know if we give them those opportunities they will certainly take advantage.”

One opportunity for the students arose on June 9, when a flood of service-oriented workers arrived to volunteer at the school. They were all employees of Deloitte, an association of financial services firms. Howard Scheck is a partner at Deloitte’s Financial Advisory Service. He was teaching a classroom of second-graders about the economics of their community. “[The students] are more focused on tangible products like food,” he said. “So they learned more about what service businesses there are, like bankers, lawyers, accountants and consultants.”

SCHECK WAS one of 76 Deloitte volunteers at the school teaching from a curriculum created by Junior Achievement, a non-profit organization that brings lessons on economics and business into schools. An additional 41 volunteers were toiling in the sun outside the school, planting trees and improving the landscaping. They were among the 1,300 volunteers in the D.C. area participating in Deloitte’s “Impact Day” of service, according to site co-lead Damon Vaccaro.

Jane Parham, Junior Achievement’s director of Virginia Programs, explained that the non-profit trains business professionals to enter classrooms and teach hands-on, age-appropriate lessons to all grade levels. The lessons build in complexity. Kindergarteners hear stories that illustrate concepts of sharing and borrowing. First graders discuss jobs within the family. Third graders become city planners. Fifth-graders create advertising and a business plan for a nationwide company. Sixth graders cross borders and enter the global economy.

Deloitte is firmly entrenched in this economy. It works internationally in four areas: audits, taxes, consulting and financial advisory services. Parham said it’s collaboration with Junior Achievement is unusual because Delete integrates lessons on ethics into the curriculum its volunteers present.

IT IS Delete and Junior Achievement’s second year at Highball Valley, and Dallas said accepting their offer to return was a “no-brainer.”

“The instructors are so unique in their ability,” Dallas said. “These are folks who sit in office buildings all day long … [Their excitement] to be in front of a group of children, I think it really shows in how they express themselves and use the curriculum … It’s just as exciting for them as it is for us.”

In Sarah Johnson’s first grade class, Deloitte employee Nauman Malik was talking about needs and wants. He held up a picture of a sack of groceries. “One two three,” he counted. Hands sprung up. The children waved flashcards above their heads, most reading “need.” Malik congratulated them. “You need food so you won’t die,” he explained.

The next picture, of a cat, was a bit more controversial. But Malik built a consensus agreeing that pets are wants. One student asked about seeing-eye dogs. Malik conceded the point. “This is not a working cat,” he said.

Scheck signed up for a class of second graders because his son is in second grade. “We’re trying to teach them about business and how businesses work,” he said. “We’re testing whether it’s faster to make [donuts] by themselves or in an assembly line.” Scheck, Deloitte volunteer Hilary Weist and teacher Anna Ford patrolled the tables as students desperately manufactured as many paper donuts as possible within the time limit.

In the hall, Vaccaro said that many Deloitte employees asked to return to Hybla Valley because they had “such a great experience” the year before.

“The kids love it,” said Scheck, “They’re at a young age where everything’s exciting to them. They’ve been very excited to have us here.”

DALLAS THINKS the children learn more from the volunteers than what they teach in the curriculum. “I think for the kids you’re putting them in front of a group of people who have done something productive with their lives and you hope that they make that connection,” Dallas said. But career success is only part of the lesson. “I think one of the things they’re really seeing is the giving back,” said Dallas. “Life is more than just about going to work ... Our service extends beyond these walls.”

Beyond the walls, Matt McLain was sitting at a picnic table, relaxing during his lunch break and surveying the trees he’d helped plant in the school’s courtyard. “It’s different than sitting in a client’s site and working with a bunch of people in suits,” he said.