BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - "I was in Mullins last time, but it doesn't matter to me," a Shell Geismar employee chimed in.
A half-dozen Shell Geismar employees are standing in the lobby of Gonzales Primary School. As each one signs in at the front desk as a visitor on-campus, the group discusses what they'll do this time. All are volunteers who work with some of the school's youngest students. They head down the hall toward the kindergarten classrooms..
Miciah Whitmore is one of the volunteer coordinators, a co-worker at the Shell plant. Justin Mahler is also a team leader.
The place two employees in one of the larger groups of kids, and one person in smaller groups.
Julian Karlsson is sitting down with a colorful children's book. He reads the first lines of the story, "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…" The squeamish kids exclaim, "Eeeew!"
Karlsson knows that's a good sign, not horror. He draws out participation with the students, "How many animals and insects can you see in this picture?" The kids reply, "7, 8". But Karlsson shakes his head no. He points to the 8th object in the picture and says that it's not an animal or an insect… "That's the grandma! "
The group says often Kindergarten has a weekly theme, and this time the theme is "insects". So there are pictures of bugs over the walls, and books about insects…
Children happily gather at assigned tables piled with toys to handle. These "centers" all tackle skills a kindergartener should be learning. One "center" has foam blocks covered with fabric—engineering, creativity. One center has iPads where children use letters to create words and identify objects that appear on the screen.
"I'm very good at this," a little girl chirps.
Donna Britt watches with fascination because the kids are having such a good time, it's hard to believe they're learning at the same time.
Justin Mahler invites developing communication and story telling skills. "What's your favorite superhero?" he asks a small boy.
The boy happily responds that he loves "Opitmus Prime" and "Bumble B". Mahler, apparently young enough to know, asks, "so you like Transformers?" The child answers "yes", and Justin replies, "Me too!"
Mahler gives you Shell's take on this venture: "It's hard to explain what we're doing. They come out here for the first time, and they love it. That's how we get a lot of repeat volunteers. It's really fun just kinda getting away from work for a little bit; kind of immerse ourselves with all the kids. And the questions they come up with, and ya know everything that they're doing in all their centers, it's just been an awesome experience."
Miciah Whitmore, the other volunteer leader has been surveying the foam block house his group is building. He's asking dozens of questions and the children talk as they build. "I gotta question, one question, why are we building a house?" he asks. See, the premise on this day is they want to build a brick house that the Big Bad Wolf can't blow down.
Whitmore says, "How we gonna build it?" A girl ponders it, grabs two long planks and holds them vertical, "Like this," she says.
Gonzales Primary teachers say kids genuinely get excited when Shell employees show up. And Britt says "Knowing now what we do, we know Shell employees love this too."
Capital One Bank, the United Way's Volunteer Center and WAFB sponsor the Power of 9 Awards. Nominations can be sent to the Capital Area United Way.