On a typical weekday a constant stream of volunteers, students, teachers, and administrators flows in and out of a small office adjoining the front office of Henderson Middle School, an underserved Northside Richmond public school. From here, Rose Marie Wiegandt, Communities in Schools (CIS) site coordinator for Henderson, uses her matchmaking skills to coordinate an array of community-school initiatives.

When Wiegandt started at Henderson, only two individuals volunteered at the school. Three years later, thanks to Wiegandt’s efforts, the school boasts partnerships with two large corporations, five nonprofits, and three local universities—University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Union University.

Richmond’s partnership with Henderson began when Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) colleagues Bryan Figura of the Bonner Scholars Program and Cassie Price, coordinator of Build It, the University's neighborhood-based civic-engagement initiative, met Wiegandt in summer 2009.

“Rose Marie’s energy, creative thinking, and dedication impressed us at that initial meeting,” Price said. “A good site supervisor is critical to a healthy campus-community partnership. Rose Marie has exceeded all our expectations by engaging our students in a wide variety of meaningful, substantive work at Henderson.”

“Rose Marie meets our students where they are,” Figura said. “She’ll create new opportunities that benefit Henderson students while simultaneously utilizing our students’ interests and talents. Instead of micromanaging, she lets our students run with a project. This is where real learning occurs for our students.”

The number of Spiders who volunteered at Henderson during the past academic year underscored the strength of this campus-community partnership. More than 40 Build It participants, including nine Bonner Scholars, volunteered weekly at Henderson as classroom aides, tutors, mentors, and after-school program assistants and managers. 

In addition, students in a dozen community-based learning courses engaged in service learning and special projects at Henderson.

Wiegandt encouraged Richmond students to develop and coordinate technology, fine arts, dance and drama, mentoring, and conflict-resolution initiatives at Henderson.

“We’ve never had this level of enrichment programs for our school,” Wiegandt said about the programs launched by Richmond students and faculty. “The volunteers provide incredible academic mentoring and support for our children.”

“Although some UR students come to Henderson to fulfill service hours for a class,” Wiegandt said, “many of them connect and return the following semester. Their level of engagement often goes far beyond their class requirements.

“College students are such good role models. They share the importance of education with our children.

“I am constantly amazed by the college students’ compassion and caring for our children. Knowing that people really care about our children is huge.”

The week of April 10-16 illustrated the depth and breadth of the Richmond-Henderson partnership.

In addition to the regular weekly academic tutoring and after-school activities, Henderson students collaborated with Richmond students and faculty during that week to participate in a taiko-drumming performance, a dance-and-drama recital, a mentor-led campus visit, and a Virginia Institute of Marine Science field trip.

They attended a campus performance of “Things Fall Apart” and critiqued skits created by documentary-theater students about massive resistance. None of this would have been possible without Wiegandt’s coordination.

Her brown eyes sparkled as she talked about the Richmond-Henderson partnership.

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is when the connections happen between our students and our volunteers and learning opportunities come to both,” Wiegandt said.

“It’s gratifying to watch college students as their knowledge about education in the city of Richmond grows along with their desire to do something to improve it.”