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Evergreen's Volunteer Project: FOSS Kit Inventory

Leigh Agler, FOSS Developer, Anacortes, Washington
September 17, 2001 | Materials Management

"Hey, volunteers can inventory the kits. It will be easy!"

This appears to be a simple solution to the problem of how to inventory hands-on kits at the school site before they are picked up for replenishment. A hearty individual volunteer can brave the task for a while—at least until he or she realizes that this can entail hundreds of kits, thousands of items, and schools scattered throughout the region! All you need is a good system. This is the tale of one successful volunteer project that works for the teachers, the volunteers, and the district, all of which contributes to quality science for each student.

Sharry Monroe, the manager of the Instructional Resource Center (IRC) from the Evergreen School District in Washington, recognized that site-based inventory would be a problem deserving of careful attention. At Evergreen, the IRC contracts with a Science Materials Center (SMC), which is responsible for resupplying and distributing kits for several districts. Sharry realized that she would first need to meet with all the parties concerned and delineate who was responsible for what. School principals, custodians, teachers, district staff and staff from the SMC were all brought together to work out the process for using volunteers to inventory kits. Everything was clarified, from "who schedules the inventories?" to where the volunteers leave their purses and get their coffee. The responsibilities of the teachers were kept as simple as possible: teach, note any missing items when the kit arrives, teach the unit, and at the end, package up any broken items, list missing ones, and return the materials to the kit. The volunteers would then inventory the kits thoroughly before they were returned to the Materials Center for replenishment. The volunteers' task was important in several ways. Missing items could be retrieved from classrooms before the kits are shipped off, teachers appreciated the help, and teachers who were not using their kits thoroughly could be identified and given additional support in teaching science.

The next step was to identify a location in each of the 23 schools that could be used three times a year for the inventory day. Sharry knew that it would be important to inventory the kits before they left the school site, so that classes could have a second chance to search for any missing items.

Then there were the volunteers to recruit. Volunteers were recruited by talking with teachers and placing announcements in school bulletins and community newsletters. The nature of the inventory task makes this especially suitable for people from the community that would like to make a difference by doing volunteer in the schools and yet cannot easily make a regular commitment to a classroom. When the recruits come to help with the inventory, they've joined a small party of enthusiastic volunteers. By the end of the day, they leave with the satisfaction of having inventoried a mountain of kits that have been well-used by hundreds of budding scientists, and are now ready to be resupplied for more investigations.

Experienced volunteer advance to volunteer project leaders. Project leaders take care of everything from arranging the timing of lunch (provided by the IRC), notifying the inventory volunteers and school custodians of the volunteer days, and welcoming the volunteers. Three project leaders share the tasks at 23 school sites. Sharry has put together a detailed instruction sheet and "to do" list for the project leaders, making this a job that a volunteer would feel comfortable taking on.

Sharry has kindly agreed to share her efforts with plans and checklists with others who are considering a similar project.

Sharry Monroe can be reached at