Although unsure about her intended major when she first arrived at Richmond, Melanie Lippert, WC '19, was determined to volunteer. 

Lippert's Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) program, Disaster, Memory, and Popular Culture, included a volunteer component.  

Lippert began volunteering at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, which proved to be a challenging site. Each week, Lippert volunteered as a classroom aide at Overby. In addition to supervising the students, the teacher would instruct Lippert to do menial tasks and, at times, reprimand students. 

“I love working with kids and helping them learn,” Lippert said. 

She recalled a moment when a student had behaved badly, and the teacher had screamed at him. 

“That’s not the right way to correct bad behavior,” Lippert said. “Kids will continue acting out if they’re screamed at.”

Overby's emphasis on standardized testing also bothered Lippert.

“I felt like teachers at Overby emphasized SOL tests too much,” she said. “It was easy to see why students weren’t excited about learning when teachers repeated that they had to cram information to pass the SOL tests.”

Lippert wanted to find a volunteering site where she could encourage children to foster a genuine love for learning. Now, she volunteers at the VCU Child Care Center. Every Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., Lippert works with a classroom of 3 and 4-year-olds.

In Lippert's new classroom, there are not tests hanging over the students' heads, she said. If students misbehave, they are not yelled at. Instead, the teachers explain to the student why their behavior is unacceptable.

Lippert reads books to the students and teaches new concepts. Last week, she taught students how to count in Spanish.

Seeing how the kids' eyes shine when discovering a new concept or learning a new word compels Lippert to come back each time. Her experiences at the Child Care Center have changed her because she can see how her work affects the students.

“Volunteering there is the highlight of my week,” Lippert said. “I schedule meetings and other events around to accommodate it because I never want to miss a session.” 

Contact features writer Sunny Lim at