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‘She Puts Her All into Helping Us.’ Volunteer Sparks a Love of STEM at Junipero Serra Elementary Posted 5/12/17


‘She Puts Her All into Helping Us.’ Volunteer Sparks a Love of STEM at Junipero Serra Elementary

Deborah Reames is a recipient of the San Francisco Education Fund’s 2016-17 Distinguished Service Award.

“I’m going to read to you about a real live woman who ended up running a lighthouse.”

Deborah Reames, a volunteer at Junipero Elementary School, waited for second-grade children to settle in as she introduced the story of famed-lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Just as she started to read, she paused to ask children whether they think they’d want to live in a lighthouse. The students yelled out a chorus of “Yes’s” and “No’s,” and she took time to call on each student to hear more.




“Yes,” one said, because there’d be “no parents!”

“I would like to live there because I would get a good view of the ocean,” another said.

“I would like to live there because there are a lot of lights, and I am scared when it’s dark,” one said.

This level of attention, patience and care that Deborah provides to each and every student is part of what makes her an outstanding volunteer, staff at the school said.

“She is super, super dedicated,” said Eve Cheung, the principal of Junipero Serra Elementary. “She’s dedicated to the students that she’s working with, and she loves the school. She puts her all into helping us.”

Along with tutoring students in the San Francisco Education Fund’s Literacy Program and reading aloud to a classroom once a month, Deborah encourages students to love science and sustainability. She fundraised over $6,000 from her personal networks to bring more environmental and science education to students at the school. Students are now learning about ecology and animal life through field trips and live presentations in their classrooms.

Without Deborah, “we would not have such a rich extracurricular or extended program for our kids,” Principal Cheung said.

Deborah also helped make possible the school’s first-ever career day in 2016. She invited speakers, including a TV cameraman, a chef, mounted patrol officers, scientists and more.

“I think it’s important to inspire the kids to believe they can do whatever they want to do and expose them to ideas of what other people do,” Deborah said.




Deborah’s dedication to making the world a better place is something that came naturally from a young age. As a teen, Deborah devised her San Leandro high school’s first-ever recycling system. She became a nonprofit environmental lawyer and spent 36 years litigating until her retirement in 2012.

Not content to take a complete break, Deborah signed on to our Literacy Program a year later, because she felt motivated to help young students learn to improve their writing skills. She saw some “horrible” writing in the field of law, she said, and “came to realize the critical importance of good writing in nearly every profession.”

Volunteers in our literacy program typically work with two children, but Deborah spends additional time tutoring and mentoring three more students. And through her literacy volunteering, Deborah has helped students improve their confidence not only in reading, but in classroom participation.

“One of the students who has been working with her was not really enthusiastic in general in class, but just in the past month and a half he’s reading more,” said Ms. Dara Peters, who teaches 2nd grade. “He’s offering answers more in class, he’s writing more… I’ve noticed him raising his hand and being a lot more engaged.”

The moments when she sees students reach their full potential are the most rewarding, Deborah said.

“I enjoy watching their reading improve or their writing improve and the interaction I get with the kids,” Deborah said. “It’s exciting when they get excited about learning something, and knowing that I’m contributing to an important cause.”




For every read-aloud she does, Deborah comes prepared, just as she did for the Women’s History Month event.

“She definitely knows the topic and theme, and she picks a book ahead of time,” Ms. Peters said. “She brings fluency resources and games that are her own.”

“The kids are showing tremendous growth,” Principal Cheung added. “Many of our kids just need that individual help and someone to talk to and to develop a strong relationship with, and she certainly does that.”



Read about the other recipients of the 2016-17 Distinguished Service Awards:


How Xoom Became Part of the Junipero Serra Elementary School Family Posted 5/12/17


How Xoom Became Part of the Junipero Serra Elementary School Family

Xoom is a recipient of the San Francisco Education Fund’s 2016-17 Distinguished Service Award.

Xoom and Junipero Serra Elementary have built a partnership so strong that when Xoom volunteer Ayo Chaney walks into the building, she doesn’t feel like a corporate volunteer, but part of the school community.

“It really feels, at this point, like a family,” Ayo said.




Xoom volunteers read aloud to students each month, help families get acquainted with their children’s technology programs, dress up for the students’ Halloween celebration and host field trips at their office, among other activities.

“I’ve never had a read-aloud volunteer who has been so eager to help,” teacher Jessi Leary Duquette said of Xoom volunteer Ethan Close, whom she also nominated for a Distinguished Service Award. “He has been my go-to chaperone for all of our field trips. He has worked really hard to get to know all of my kids. He knows all of their names.”

During a recent read-aloud, students went up to Ethan to say hello and tell him about their day or about their families. It’s also not uncommon for Xoom volunteers to spend extra time chatting with the teachers and swapping stories. Ayo attended the fifth-grade graduation and brought her brother, who she said was immediately welcomed by all the teachers and school staff.



Growing up in Berkeley in the ‘90s, Ayo remembers a time when the Bay Area was more diverse, and more families looked like hers. Being at Junipero Serra Elementary School, which features dual-language programs and where most students are Latino, vividly recalls that time, she said.

“It’s the one space I feel in my life that really reminds me of my childhood,” Ayo said.

Xoom has an office in Guatemala, and many of the employees speak Spanish. Principal Eve Cheung remembers a particular family night in which volunteers talked with parents in Spanish and explained how to access an online library of books for their children.

“The communication was catered to our families, and it was wonderful because that’s one of the big pushes for the school — to get the kids to be reading at home,” Principal Cheung said.

Volunteers often speak with the students in their classrooms or read-aloud stories in Spanish.

“It stresses the importance of being bilingual,” Principal Cheung said. “It also stresses how useful it is to have a foot in each country. I think to see competent professionals who access both languages and work within two different countries is inspiring. And especially for my 5th-grade students, who will be going to Xoom’s headquarters, they get to see how the professionals there communicate with people in Guatemala…It’s really nice for them to see that the world opens up — the opportunities open up — if you are bilingual.”

The volunteers and the school are both thankful that Xoom makes so much time available for its staffers to spend at Junipero Serra.



“They really encourage our social impact on San Francisco and really encourage us to get out there and help and support the community outside of our office as much as possible,” Ayo said.

That level of support has helped embed volunteers with the school and ensure students are surrounded with more caring adults who are invested in their education.

“[VP] John Kunz has been very, very supportive, and he’s given his employees this access to fully participate in as many activities that we have,” Principal Cheung said. “The volunteers become part of the classroom community, and they have continuity with a particular classroom. The [volunteers and kids build] a long-term relationship, which is wonderful.”


Read about the other recipients of the 2016-17 Distinguished Service Awards:Deborah Reames, who volunteers in the Education Fund’s Literacy Program at Junipero Serra Elementary

How to find us / Como llegar

School Schedule / Horario de la Escuela 

2018 – 2019 School Schedule


Monday:                     8:25 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.

Tuesday:                   8:25 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Wednesday:               8:25 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.

Thursday:                   8:25 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.

Friday:                        8:25 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.


Eve Cheung, Principal
625 Holly Park Circle, San Francisco, CA
Tel: 415 695 5685
Fax: 415 920 5194