Bellevue School District's VIBES program helps students – and volunteers

VIBES volunteer Shikha Khandelwal works with students at Stevenson Elementary School.  - COURTESY PHOTO, Laura Zimmerman
VIBES volunteer Shikha Khandelwal works with students at Stevenson Elementary School.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO, Laura Zimmerman

By Julie Benson
Special to the Reporter

Many of the volunteers in Bellevue’s public schools share a common secret: although their motive for volunteering is to help children, they often suspect they are getting more from the experience than the students they help. The truth is, of course, that volunteers and children reap very different – but often equally significant – rewards.
“VIBES (Volunteers in Bellevue’s Education System) is about making connections,” said VIBES Program Coordinator MaryEllen Zemlin. “We connect people with meaningful opportunities to make a difference.”
Funded in partnership between Bellevue Schools Foundation, Bellevue School District, and the city of Bellevue, the program has served as a model for others across the country.
A wide range of opportunities are available, from listening to kindergartners read aloud to working through advanced math with high school students. Some volunteers work with a single student while others support an entire classroom.
“Many of our applicants choose to volunteer because they had their own difficulties in school,” Zemlin said. “They understand and empathize with young struggling students. They make great role models and demonstrate that hard work and perseverance are worth it.”
VIBES volunteers come from all walks of life, from high school students to working professionals and retirees. Volunteers are asked to commit to at least one hour per week for the school year.
“It takes time to build relationships,” explained VIBES Program Coordinator Sue Hanlon. “Volunteers who make a weekly commitment have an amazing impact on student success.”
The program can be a particularly good fit for seniors, who often have more flexible schedules.
“Volunteering is a great way to stay connected,” said Zemlin.
Volunteers are invited to attend coffees, workshops, and other events designed specifically for them throughout the year. Volunteering also gives community members the opportunity to experience public education today.
“They see the incredible diversity of languages, cultures, and economic opportunities, and how hard our teachers are working to create success for each and every child,” Zemlin said.
More than 600 community members volunteered in Bellevue schools last year, but many more volunteers are needed. Students and classrooms in need are currently on waiting lists and additional needs will be identified this fall.
“Volunteers get so much personal satisfaction out of the experience,” said Hanlon. “It’s amazing how much of an impact you can make just by being there.”
VIBES orientations are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 24 and Thursday, Oct. 2, with sessions offered from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 6-7 p.m. each day. To learn more or request an application, visit, call 425-456-4154, or email

Julie Benson is a member of the Bellevue Schools Foundation


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