Sun City West volunteers support students in math, literacy

Thompson Ranch fifth grade teacher Sue Bartram shares student thank you notes with Your Experience Counts volunteer Mike Kennelly at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. Mr. Kennelly supported students in math and STEM in both the fifth and sixth grades and is returning to the school in September. [Submitted photo]

Your Experience Counts training coming to Surprise Sept. 23-24


By Michaela Barnhart

Special to Independent Newsmedia

When Sun City West resident Mike Kennelly retired several years ago from a career as a researcher in the biomedical field, he returned to his first love — working with students in the classroom. Mr. Kennelly will be serving as a volunteer for the third year with Your Experience Counts (YEC) in the Dysart Unified School District for the 2019-2020 school year.

A program of HandsOn Greater Phoenix, YEC recruits and trains classroom volunteers for high needs schools in the Dysart, Washington, Osborn, Balsz and Mesa school districts. The program served nearly 4,000 students in 26 schools last year. More volunteers are needed to support literacy in grades 1-3 and math and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in grades 4-8.

Mr. Kennelly, with an advanced degree in chemical engineering, spent several years teaching in high school in addition to his work as a researcher.

“They were my most enjoyable and rewarding years,” he stated. “When I saw YEC was seeking classroom volunteers, it was a good fit for me.”

Mr. Kennelly worked with individuals and small groups of students providing math interventions in fifth and sixth grades last year at Thompson Ranch Elementary, 11800 W. Thompson Ranch Rd., in El Mirage.

Sixth grade teacher Michelle Haslam reported that Mr. Kennelly “helped improve student academic outcomes and student motivation.”

At the conclusion of the school year, several fifth-grade students wrote notes thanking Mr. Kennelly for his help. Their comments included: “Thank you for getting me ready for the math test and AzMERIT…thank you for teaching me math skills, you are very kind to us…because of you I got in the Math Olympics.”

Another Sun City West resident and YEC volunteer, Bette Ryan-Knuppel, has been supporting third grade students at Thompson Ranch with literacy as well as helping English Language Learners. Ms. Ryan-Knuppel, a retired nurse and educator, will return for her fifth year as a volunteer.

Although both Mr. Kennelly and Ms. Ryan-Knuppel had some prior classroom experience, “no teaching experience is required to be an effective volunteer,” according to Mike Beardslee, Educational Program Manager.

“We value life and work experiences, a passion for helping children learn and an interest in specific subject areas,” Mr. Beardslee stated. “We provide the training to boost volunteers’ confidence and capabilities to support the classroom learning environment; and techniques and strategies for reading, math and other interventions.”

Many volunteers are retired from business, military or education; and some are stay-at-home moms, college students or work part-time. Volunteers typically spend one or two days, 2–10 hours a week in classrooms. Volunteers interested in literacy will be matched with a teacher in grades 1-3; those interested in math and STEM will work with a teacher in grades 4-8.

Training for new and returning volunteers in the Northwest Valley will take place Sept. 23-24 in Surprise. Training will also be held in Phoenix Aug. 27-28 and Mesa Sept. 18-19. Additional trainings will be planned for returning winter visitors in October and November.

For more information or to volunteer for the 2019-2020 school year, contact Mr. Beardslee at or 623-223-9248, or visit to initiate next steps.


Editor’s note: Michaela Barnhartis the HandsOn Greater Phoenix calendar program coordinatorfor AmeriCorps VISTA, and can be reached at .



What: Your Experience Counts training for new and returning volunteers

When: Sept. 23-24

Where: Training space TBA in the Dysart Unified School District. Applicants will receive training details after completing a phone interview.

More Information: Email, call 623-223-9248, or visit

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