Enthusiastic chatter created a cacophony in the gym of A.R. Lord elementary near the PNE Monday where the earthy smell of pumpkin pulp filled the air.
Two classes of grades 3 and 4 students sat shoulder to shoulder with volunteer teenagers and alumni in their early 20s as the volunteers carved pumpkins to each kids’ specifications.
“I’ve killed a pumpkin,” exclaimed one boy who held his pulpy hands in the air.
Members of Dr. A.R. Lord Alumni Association, or DARLAA, brought the pre-Halloween festivities to life.
DARLAA volunteers, who are all under age 24, used money they’d raised to buy a pumpkin for each child and set up a pumpkin patch in the morning so each student could choose their own raw material.
“It’s inspiring and they’re amazing role models for my kids,” said Tracy Spring, a mother of two students in grades 1 and 3.
“It’s also amazing that the East Side kids are here, too, after what they went through,” she added.
Controversy arose last year when two alternative programs for teenagers who needed to get back on track with high school were amalgamated in an idle building on the kindergarten-to-Grade 7 school’s grounds.
“We lost a lot of families, maybe 40, 45 kids,” Spring said.
A group of East Side alternative program girls, some of them with piercings and copious eyelashes, said they “love[d] little kids.”
They had all previously volunteered with younger children whereas the lone alternative school boy volunteering at 2:30 p.m. said it was his first time.
“I kind of like it,” said the 16-year-old as he tried to fashion a super scary jack-o’-lantern as desired by his five-year-old charge.
Allison Burke who has taught at A.R. Lord for 19 years, expressed gratitude for the DARLAA volunteers at the school.
“At our school we seem to have lost all our male teachers, so it’s great to have male role models helping out,” she said.
DARLAA boasts 15 members, including alumni and connections made through social networking on Facebook. Just under half are men.
Adrienne Wong, Eric Leung and Carmela Santorelli started DARLAA in 2010 and the association has raised $7,000 for field trips, Thanksgiving hampers and school supplies. Wong and Leung say they’re aware that students these days may not be afforded the extras they enjoyed because of cutbacks. They wanted to give back to the school that had fostered their sense of community spirit and where their mothers were active on the parent advisory council.
“We were looking for something that was more personal, more direct,” Wong said. “This is about as direct as it will get.”
Wong, who is completing her fourth year in psychology at Simon Fraser University, hopes to pursue elementary teacher training next year. That wasn’t her plan when she co-founded DARLAA two years ago, but contact with the kids has shifted her career goals.
DARLAA also gives a $500 scholarship to a graduate of Templeton secondary each year in recognition of the importance of post secondary education.