NEW ULM - Like many, Edith Ash arrives at work by 8 o'clock every morning and leaves at the end of a full-length work day.
But unlike most, she doesn't collect a paycheck.
Ash, a retired teacher, is a volunteer in Marlene Hopmann's first-grade classroom at St. Paul's Lutheran Elementary School.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Edith Ash, a retired teacher, volunteers every day, all day, in a first-grade classroom at St. Paul’s Lutheran Elementary School in New Ulm.
Ash is a constant, serious presence in the classroom - since her retirement, for about four years, she has volunteered in the classroom all day, every day.
Ash is qualified to serve in the classroom. A 1968 graduate of Dr. Martin Luther College (and classmate of Hopmann's), she has a degree in elementary education. During her own teaching career, she also earned a reading teacher's license in the state of Wisconsin.
Between her husband's postings, raising children and school down-sizings, Ash taught in elementary schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin for an overall 12 years. One of her assignments, which lasted five years, was working as the "fundamentals" teacher at St. Paul's.
The fundamentals program addresses the needs of children with academic difficulties who don't qualify for other federal or state programs. It focuses in part on enhancing basic skills, such as reading and math.
Ash's qualifications, and her long-time friendship with Hopmann, make her a natural fit for Hopmann's classroom.
Ash says she is very "grateful" to Hopmann for giving her the chance to help the children.
In the classroom, much like a paraprofessional, Ash completes teacher-assigned tasks. She does everything from dispensing band aids to calendar and reading group. She monitors bathroom breaks, sometimes reads devotions, ties shoes ... She helps children in need of one-on-one attention in completing tasks.
A former reading teacher, she especially appreciates being able to read to the children and listen to them read.
Ash has also made another tangible contribution: her own reading teacher's library. She owns scores of easy readers and has lent them all to the classroom. The first-graders can read the books at school and also borrow them for reading at home.
Ash points out that the final authority in classroom management, of course, lies with Hopmann.
"She is the teacher. But she lets me offer some things..."
Her biggest motivator? Her love for children.
"I have the time," adds Ash.
Volunteers help out in all fields of national life - media centers and libraries, schools, etc., says Ash.
"I just think the country is better off for having volunteers."
Ash has a history of volunteering in a classroom-like setting. She is especially proud of, and wishes that others could benefit from, one of her ideas: when her children were young, she initiated a cooperative pre-school at her home.
Ash and other moms taught the two-hour free pre-school sessions, all sharing the teaching duties. The time spent alongside the children was "precious" - and re-emphasized in her mind the value of parents' (or other trusted adults') involvement in children's learning.
Ash loves listening to the children and sharing their joys and sorrows. Sometimes she is among the first to hear the big news in the first-graders' lives - a family expecting a baby, for example.
Ash "is a very special blessing" in her room, says Hopmann.
"She is a very helpful person, willing to do whatever she can... She is kind and soft-spoken."
The time Ash spends in Hopmann's classroom helps relieve pressures on the classroom teacher. It provides an extra pair of hands (an extra supervisor, for example, in case Hopmann needs to call a parent).
More significantly, it allows for more individual attention being given to the first-graders (extra reading practice, for example), says Hopmann.
"We can accomplish so much more with the children... And, I didn't have to train her."