‘The Mary Poppins of the library’

Laura Gearhart records data for the Reading Counts program

Laura Gearhart seems to snap her fingers and make books fall into place, say Countryside Elementary School staff members.

“She’s the little Mary Poppins of the library,” said media specialist Tara Kietzman of the ever-present parent volunteer.

Powered by Parents is a series highlighting the parents, grandparents and other family members who give their time in schools to help students and teachers do their best.

Indeed, when books need shelving, papers need laminating and students’ reading quiz scores need recording, Gearhart gets them done in supercalifragilisticexpialidocious fashion. “Without Laura’s help I would be lost with Reading Counts, Kietzman said, referring to a program for which students read books and take quizzes to test their comprehension. “She has taken it over.”

Gearhart, mom to fourth-grader Addison and first-grader Ezra, spends about 15 hours a week at Countryside, helping in any way she can. She’s known to take over a chore for a busy teacher passing by in the hallway or to spend hours putting scissors to pillowcases to transform them into child-size vests for Thanksgiving program costumes.

“I know my kids aren’t going to want me here forever, so as much as I can help I want to be here to help,” said Gearhart, a stay-at-home mother.

She keeps track of students who tally up miles in the school yard for running club; she helps first-graders learn their sight words; assists fourth-graders in math group and works with students on their writing.

Oftentimes, her plan to volunteer three days a weeks stretches a bit. “It’s an amazing school,” she said. “I love to be here with the kids.”

Laura Gearhart is known for her speedy book shelving skills

‘Filling Buckets’ School-wide

Third-grade teacher Erin Kornoely said Gearhart understands teachers’ jobs can be busy and stressful. “She is truly willing to help in any way she can. It may be organizing a long overlooked cupboard, helping to get our classroom materials set so we are ready to teach lessons, and of course working with students. Even though Laura is volunteering because her children go do Countryside, she truly cares about all the students in our school and wants the best for all kids.”

“Laura consistently is finding ways to ‘fill out buckets’ as staff members and find the good in every child and adult in our building.”

Gearhart recently added books to the Reading Counts prize table, and along with pencil pouches and squishy balls, students have been eager to earn them. She said she loves motivating children to read by sharing her love of books. “To be able to show that it’s a passion is great for the kids,” she said.

She also completes tasks to saves teachers time, like laminating and making copies. “I feel like if I can take that away from the teachers, it’s a brainless activity I can do.”

But staff members describe Gearhart’s help as much more than menial. Gearhart’s got Poppins-esque skills, said Kietzman, who walks into the media center to see perfectly reorganized sections of the room.

“You should see her shelve books. She can do it in 15-20 minutes… I call her my little angel too.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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