TARZANA : Volunteers Fill Gaps to Teach Gifted Students

Even though Phil Graziano has been to more music rehearsals than he can count, there is something unique about his latest ones.

As he raised a white plastic recorder to his lips Thursday, nine children blew into theirs, out of tune and out of sync, but full of enthusiasm as they broke into a screeching rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

A professional vocalist and trombone player for more than 35 years, Graziano, who plays with the Harry James Orchestra, volunteers once a week to teach music to children in the enrichment program for gifted students at Nestle Avenue Elementary School.

As budget cutbacks leave schools scrambling for resources, administrators are increasingly turning to parents, finding that their contributions extend well beyond the traditional bake sale fund-raisers.


At schools across the San Fernando Valley, parents are toiling in gardens, painting hallways and logging books in the library.

And at Nestle this year, teachers, parents and community volunteers have joined to create a comprehensive program that teaches 72 gifted children French, computer skills, journalism and science.

“I think it’s great that all these parents and people would take time out of their day to come and give us a good education,” said fifth-grader Matthew Greenfield. “It really makes me excited and happy.”

In California, schools are required to provide gifted children with 200 minutes a week of enriched curriculum.


“If we want to keep these kids in public school, we have to meet their needs,” said Carol Siembieda, a third-grade teacher who organized the volunteer program.

“We have such a limited budget that we can’t afford any extra personnel or services,” she said. “I think this is the only way to succeed with these children.”

In one classroom students huddled over computers, working on the school newspaper as Brian Scoggins, an electronics technician for Packard Bell, watched.

In another, students practiced French phrases as Fariba Jahansouz, who has three children at Nestle, corrected pronunciation.


“I like to be a part of my children’s education,” Jahansouz said. “I think volunteering in the classroom is the best way.”