By Wendy Lawrence, Inspire Contributor
Eastside Prep is built on a foundation of volunteerism. Every year Inspire highlights the hardworking volunteers who help make the school what it is. A few exceptional volunteers each year receive the Alice Strong Award for volunteerism—an award that is very aptly named.
The original volunteers in the EPS community were Tom and Alice Strong. “In 2003, I had the ‘Big Idea’ that we needed a new school on the Eastside,” reflects Alice. “My husband, Tom, reluctantly agreed.” But they had no experience in schools, so they picked up the phone. They quickly accumulated a small board and hired Dr. Terry Macaluso as a consultant. Strong remembers words like “crazy,” “lots of work,” and “nearly impossible” from that first meeting with Dr. Macaluso. “But to our great surprise, she agreed to join the board meetings and later became our Head of School.”
The Strongs’ greatest contribution was both simple and extremely difficult: they didn’t give up. “There were many times we thought we had met the end, but then something good would happen and hope was revived.”
Volunteerism was always the backbone of EPS. “Parents built the school,” says Alice Strong “It was the parents who recognized the advantages of an innovative education for their children. This combination with the right Head of School, Dr. Terry Macaluso, the right teachers, and the right board is the magic sauce that keeps this school growing. A big part of the interconnectedness is that parents, leadership, and teachers are excited to do something original in education. I hope to see more schools emulate this in the future.”
While the Strongs have left the school (their son Paul graduated with the EPS Class of 2009), volunteerism among our entire parent community remains strong to this day. Three of our prior Parent Association Presidents were asked to share their perspectives as regular volunteers within the community.
Katharine Pike (current PA President) initially chose to volunteer at EPS to get to know more about the school and the families. But she kept volunteering because the atmosphere was so welcoming and fun. “As a class parent rep, I quickly learned how thoughtfully and intentionally the school was run.” Pike appreciates the value placed on emotional wellness for both students and parents. The parent classes taught by Dr. Kelly Moore “fostered an amazing, strong bond between the parent participants, which was emotionally invaluable during the pandemic. We all learned so much about the value of community during the pandemic, yet EPS was already putting a priority on building deeper relationships between the parents.” As for volunteering, Pike notes, “EPS has a long history of incredible volunteers. I have met so many amazing, intelligent, funny interesting parents while volunteering and I honestly believe the best thing parents can do to connect with the school is to get involved.”
Claudia Bayer knows her volunteering shows her children how important their education is to her. It’s also been a fun way for her to connect with other parents and teachers. Bayer spent many years in the Parent Association in a variety of roles, including president. She loved connecting parents with each other and with the school. “This collaboration helped to support communication and inclusion in a fast-growing community.” Bayer understands how meaningful this collaboration is—parents are not only involved in supporting the school through events and activities, but they are also engaged in supporting their children to meet educational goals. “Support in both the classroom and at home help build a strong foundation for the future success of our children.”
Heather Burkey, who has also done a lot to support the connectedness of EPS, loves how she was immediately welcomed onto the team of Parent Association volunteers. “I saw how supportive (and fun) the EPS staff, faculty, and parents are.” She loves the positive energy that flows from EPS faculty and staff. “You can visibly see the camaraderie. The supportive environment sets the tone for the students on how to interact with one another.”
Anne Corley also found volunteering a fun way to connect. “I loved having a reason to be on campus and getting to know other parents, which otherwise can be hard to do when the student body is so geographically diverse. I particularly loved watching how well the faculty and staff work together. The chemistry was just amazing.” Watching the school grow has also been amazing. “While I miss the intimacy that comes from having such a small, tight-knit community, I am so impressed by seeing the school evolve into a thriving, dynamic institution that can offer educational opportunities to so many more students.” As founder and original volunteer Alice Strong reminds us, “the biggest lesson to learn from this adventure is that big ideas can come along at any time in life. You don’t have to know everything to bring your ideas into reality, you just have to find the right kind of people to help.”