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It is the end of the school year in the Bitterroot Valley and teachers are looking back to thank those that helped with education.

Liz Jameson taught 21 students in fourth grade at Corvallis Primary School this year and is singing the praises of five dedicated Soroptimist volunteers who made a difference in her classroom all year.

Saundra Amsden, a Soroptimist since the late 1990s, has a heart for education and a goal of getting the Soroptimists physical presence out into the community and outside of Hamilton.

“We seem to be very focused on Hamilton,” Amsden said. “We give many dollars in scholarships and that’s great but there’s no physical presence. I thought classrooms need help. Kids have a lot of stressors and a lot of things going on in their lives and I know the teachers are stressed out.”

The project began a couple of years ago with the Soroptimists donating three backpacks full of school supplies specific for student needs in Jameson’s class.

“It’s amazing,” Amsden said. “Without the backpack, the supplies alone can cost over $100 for decent quality items. Some parents can’t afford that. We also donated over the next few years and then when Sue Macmeeken became president I said I wanted us to adopt a classroom.”

Amsden thought up using the skills sets that members have.

“Alene (Tunny) was a teacher, I really like math and people, mom wanted to do art work with kids, unfortunately she had a couple of strokes but she came back and we did some nice projects,” Amsden said. “Robin (Clute) likes to read and Sue (Macmeeken) was terrified of kids but was willing to do anything the teacher needed help with.”

“I followed her because I wanted to work outside my box,” Macmeeken said with a laugh.

Five Soroptimists signed up and passed the background checks to work in Jameson’s classroom this year about once a week, two-hours each time.

“We were filling a need for Liz and came to do what she needed us to do,” Amsden said. “Helping one-on-one with the students makes a difference in their learning. It has worked out really well and the kids are great.”

Clute said it is amazing how much fourth grade students know.

“They put me to shame,” she said. “It made us brush up on our skills and they helped us.”

Macmeeken said she now knows the difference between a metaphor and a simile.

Tunny said she enjoyed going on the class field trips to the Missoula Symphony, Lake Como and a Bitterroot Ballet performance.

Marylou Amsden said she did several art projects with the kids and has big ideas for next year.

“The program has a budget and one thing it will cover an expense for a child if there is a fee,” she said, “instead of the teacher paying out of her own pocket.”

Macmeeken, president for a year-and-a-half, said the Soroptimists’ national focus is education.

“We have been emphasizing education for women,” she said. “But I love this project because it is important to educate young girls and young boys.”

Clute said a recent study that showed men who battered their wives but were then taught to read gained self-confidence and no longer felt the need to be abusive because they no longer needed to show they were superior.

“Education changes lives,” she said.

Tunny said she enjoys being in the educational environment.

“As a retired teacher it is wonderful to be back in the classroom again with these kids,” she said. “They give us as much as we give them, or more.”

The Soroptimist volunteers agreed that hugs from kids are the best payment they could receive.

Fourth-grade students shared their thoughts about having the volunteers in their classroom.

Emma Rivera said, “I love having these ladies in the classroom because it is fun and you help us out,” she said. “I just enjoy it a lot.”

Halla Madruga said the volunteers were fun and helped her with tough work.

“Like math and art,” she said.

Silas Coleman said he likes all the volunteers equally.

“They make everything more fun,” he said.

Ryan Shaw said, “It is fun having them around because they make everything more special.”

David Marston said the volunteers were fun and helpful.

Abby had a great insight.

“Miss Jameson has a lot of work to do and it is hard for her to do it all and help us individually,” she said. “When these people are around they help us and are really helpful. It helps us to learn more.”

Kaylyn Sanchez said it is nice to have the volunteers that help in the classroom.

“They make us laugh and are really nice,” she said. “We are all going to miss them next year.”

Jameson said the volunteers will be held back next year as she needs them to stay in fourth grade to help her.

“The difference it has made in having them has been phenomenal,” she said. “It is like giving the kids one-on-one time that I cannot do very often. It has been very helpful for me, wonderful for the kids and especially kids these days need positive mentors. What they have provided is beyond academics, the kids all know these women care about them.”

Amsden told the students that Soroptimist International started in Southern California and the focus is to empower the lives of women and girls.

“We like to do that through education,” she said. “We don’t want to leave you boys behind either. Our goal is education and being in the classroom has been great.”

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