Community Volunteers

Hi,
Would like to get some input - especially NJ teams - what are your rules with community volunteers?

Probably best if I ask some questions. For definition purpose I call a community volunteer someone who is not a teacher in the employ of the district in question

1.) How you recruit them

2.) What rights and obligations do they have. Now I know FRC has YPP so I assume for community teams its easy as you get YPP and then you are a coach and do some coaching. If lets say there are just 2 and one has to run an errant the other one keeps coaching. So for schools only then.

2a.) If a teacher is not available does that mean “no robotics” or is there a “special class” of community volunteer (non certificated teacher in employ of the district) to run things. So for example if the teacher needs to run out to get something - is the meeting over?

2b.) If you have multiple locations in the school and lets say 1 teacher and 1 Community volunteer. and you want to do some mechanics and some programming can the teache lets say take 5 kids into the programming lab and the Community Volunteer 6 kids to the machine shop or vize versa.
2c.) What are the policies, rules for remote interaction (Discord, Zoom etc)

3.) Are there schools who run robotics with Community volunteers only?

Again all the above is no issue with Community teams as long as everyone is YPP. Our school has a problem finding enough teachers who want to do it and so I am tasked to try to find out how the “teachers for robotics shortage” is being dealt with in other districts - especially NJ. So any and all input would be welcome

  1. See many other threads/topics on recruiting mentors. Bottom line, start with parents and sponsors. Ask specific individuals works much better than “broadcasting” your recruitment.

  2. Depends on the school, and sometimes the situation within each school. For example, while 3946 was working out of a classroom, the teacher needed to be there for the beginning of every session, and preferably all the way through. When we were in an external building, where were many times when only non-employee mentors were present. It’s mostly going to be up to the school or district.

  3. not that I’m aware, though I have heard of some where the teacher/school employee wasn’t an active coach/mentor.

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Thanks Its a fact finding mission to assist the admin in developing policy to be voted on by the BOE and that flies with the lawyers etc. So if you have anything codified that would be fantastic

Although I am in PA I think I have some relevant answers to some of these questions. In my FRC years as a student on 103 we had many community volunteers, many of which previously had kids on the team, but some who did not. Following graduating and completing my degree I became a, “Community,” volunteer, though it’s not quite the same as an alumni.

1.) Generally they are recruited as co-workers, neighbors, or friends of other mentors or parents of the team. All of 103’s community mentors (as far as I know) had kids on the team at some point, or were alumni, but many had no kids involved for well over a decade.

2.) This really depends on the parent organization (if there is one) and what trust the team has in the community mentors. Some of these mentors became official school employees (purely as robotics mentors) after a number of years so they could still run meetings at the school without the teachers. All school-based programs I have been involved with in PA require FBI background check, state background check, and other checks to ensure the students are safe. Most require school-specific training as well, especially in religious-based schools (similar to YPP).

2a.) See above. Generally an employee of the school needed to be present for every meeting. 103 got around that by making mentors who had been around long enough and gained the trust of the school and team an employee title, often with a small stipend, which gave them full access to the school premises at any time of day (or night). There had to be at least one other adult in attendance, but otherwise meetings could be run without the other mentors (which rarely, if ever happened). Generally if a mentor who was not an employee of the school was the only mentor available no meeting would happen.

2b.) Generally you should have 2 adults in any room students are in. So in your case those two groups would need to meet in the same room if there were only 2 adults available. This is for the safety of both students and adults. Some schools might say 3 people (can be 2 students or 2 adults). This can be a huge grey area (what constitutes a room?) and is definitely something that should be discussed with school administration. So many edge-cases exist on this that are sometimes difficult to completely eradicate with limited mentors. If the team is not school-based there is often no such requirement unless it is created by the team, which in all cases it should be implemented.

2c.) For most organizations I have been involved in there is to be no DMs from Mentors to Students or vice versa except for mentors to their children on the team. That means only group messages or boards. Student-student DMs are often banned too but are much less of a problem, especially if the records can be extracted. Most schools won’t allow official lines of communication like Discord or Slack and rely on Email to have better traceability.

3.) I do not know of any school-based teams that run this way, but it is possible. There are plenty of community-based teams that function exactly this way though since they are not directly associated with a school. FRC 1640, 365, and a few others in the area are good examples of well-run community-based teams that might have some more insight (@Mr_MOE, @carolp, @Clem1640, @Gdeaver)

See if your school might consider adding official employment for community mentors (even with 0 compensation) for a coach position. This is essentially the same thing many schools do with sports coaches from the community. It definitely takes time to build rapport with the parent organization and other parents on the team.

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We fit this definition. Our team is based at a public high school, but is run by community volunteers who have organized into a nonprofit corporation. These volunteers are parents, alumni, representatives of sponsors, and professionals from local industry who serve the team as mentors/coaches. Our team is privileged to have the strong support of our school administrators who provide us a space to work and access to the building, and the school bookkeeper also manages some funds earmarked for us, but otherwise we have no personnel overlap with the school.

The non profit is interesting - which state are you from?

We haven’t had a teacher involved for a few years now (5 maybe?). One of our prior students came back to mentor after college, and has since become the “lead mentor” - aka she receives a stipend from the school and acts as the only paid coach for the team. The rest of us are considered unpaid employees of the school (bonus: as employees, we got early access to the Covid Vaccine, along side teachers. Makes sense, as we were in the school interacting with the students regularly!). This means we each have:

  • Key fobs (only active for a single door, outside of the normal school day)
  • keys (only work on the doors within the STEM Center wing of the school)
  • IDs (Great for freebies during teacher appreciation day!)
  • Access to reimbursements for team-related expenses (the school manages the team’s funds for us)

In exchange, we all go through:

  • Background checks every other year or so
  • YPP-esq training that all school employees go through, including regular refresher courses

The only requirement we have on attendance is 2 mentors at all times. The STEM center is small enough that separation isn’t really an issue - a small shop, larger assembly area, classroom/1/2 sized practice field, and a conference room. In fact, from a single location you can see into every room, thanks to internal windows (by design!). As a result, mentors and students are often moving between rooms/groups, so there’s no big concern there, so long as we meet the two-mentor minimum requirement.

It’s probably important to note that we are a private school, not part of a public school district. That likely impacts things like this a bit!

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Thanks anyway. In the end it is probably going to be up to the lawyers

3946 did require a school board specific YPP-like training for regular mentors (probably 1+/month or 2+/month, but I don’t know exactly what the threshold was). It started about the same time we moved to the portable so it was probably related to being able to be there without the head coach (teacher).

3946 also has a 501c3 booster club in addition to the school as a sponsor. Many of the team sponsors donate to the booster club rather than the school; it simplifies procurement processes. The school still requires getting annual reports from the booster club, but we don’t have to go through purchase orders or put everything up to three bids.

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Another resource to perhaps help your organization come up with specific policies may be the Safe Sport organization. My daughter is an equestrian, and as such, USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) required ALL parents, coaches, trainers and anyone over 18 who would be actively participating in USEF events to go through Safe Sport training. Information HERE through USEF. Not having had children in a public school in MANY years, I don’t know what the policies are around the sports activities within schools. They may already have something such as Safe Sport implemented, and perhaps that could be another resource.

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5826 is also run exclusively by community volunteers, although we continue to look for significant teacher involvement and there is even an open position with a small stipend. (Not nearly enough to matter, but a bit of a political necessity). Until last March we were working out of a sponsor’s shop, but have moved into the school’s new STEM center. Admin likes it to be used for, well, STEM. Lots more thoughts on that but it would be a glass 'o beverage situation.
Our team evolved, or perhaps mutated, out of some non FIRST programs we’d been running at the middle school for a long time. Alums of that got together and said “Make it so”. I and the other lead mentor were dragooned forthwith. Our other community mentors are (2) fathers of current students. (1) kid I coached in Little League long ago! (1) person with actual FRC experience in another state who heard about us. (2) grandpas now coming on board. We bring in extra help for build season in niche roles including the kid who made me dive down this rabbit hole so many years ago, now operations manager at one of our sponsors.
We have to fill out a background check form from the school and watch a series of videos. Said videos are 80% filler, 10% trendy nonsense and 10% actual things you are better off for watching.

PM if other questions. I can say that the real keys to getting along as “guests” in a school setting is not paperwork. It is storage space and Anger Not The Custodians!

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If you are looking to cover mentors for liability insurance, get 501c3 coverage, get excellent youth safety training, and be part of a great community, I highly recommend you reach out to your local 4H chapter.

I’ve been on teams who were 4H and the organization makes it incredibly easy to operate without a teacher. Many 4H chapters can also help you find facilities to practice at or for a workshop.

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I can second this. 3928 was a school team its first year before moving out to be a 4H team. Our relationship with 4H has been very positive and helpful. Side benefit: we can now have members from any high school in our county.

Thanks I will look into that too

Not in NJ, but we are a school team. We have no teacher involvement and are entirely “community volunteers” or parents / former-parents. All our mentors have the opportunity to act like “full” mentors or coaches or whatever you want to call it. It very draining if a single (or even two) people must be present at every gathering.

Most all of our non-parents are alumni. Not neccessarily from our team, but from other FRC teams. After we found a job we wanted to get involved. We picked up a lot of them from being very active on the state-wide discord (as soon as they post looking for a team we try to snatch them up) and talking with lots of people at competition about the fact that we are looking for mentors. We have also had a very small number of non-FRC mentors that came to us through the school. They connecting with the school wanting to volunteer either because they were retired or they wanted to practice some teaching in a volunteer capacity. We got them because we had a close relationship with the school.

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My team is a very special case. We are always treated as a club but treated as a sports team when it becomes more convenient. Yes very confusing. So we when we qualify for champs, a club has to get board approval 3 months in advance, where a sports team does not need that.

Also all of our mentors are from industry and categorized as unpaid staff/volunteers. We still do have a few teachers but they mostly take care of paperwork and field trip forms. The lead mentor 1/2 do not work for the school district. This does make things a little difficult as we won’t get informed on information until it’s very late. But we make it work.

Our mentors are all categorized as unpaid staff/walk on coaches which means they have to go through about 3 hours of training initially and then renewal trainings take about 1.5 hour depending on if your 2 year stuff is up and get fingerprinted at a specific fingerprinting place that charges 5 times more than other places. We do how ever cover the fingerprinting cost for our mentors since it is so absurdly high.

We also have an agreement the school that our lead mentor 1/2 can have keys to the school. Which means we have 24/7 access which is kinda nice. But you still need to make sure your meeting is on the school calendar and is approved before meeting.

As for communication policies, all communication with students for our team must happen over Slack so if I need to ever pull logs for something I can do that very easily. For zoom one of our teachers has setup a always open zoom room and gave us her host key so that we are meeting on a district zoom account.

We not only do all of this but do this across the school district meaning we are a district robotics team that accepts students from any school in the district. There is one policy/agreement we did make with 2 other teams in the district, if your school has a FRC team you must do at least 1 year on that team before joining the district team so that you give your school team a fair shot. With our team bringing over 20 years old, you can say we have a lot of history and are the big robotics team in the valley that makes the most noice, and draws the most attention.

FYI, this is all about Project 691 Robotics and I am the lead mentor 2.

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At this private, all-girls school that I mentored for a year, I had to attend a YPP-like course run by the diocese, along with a whole bunch of other non-robotics volunteers.

The teachers said the school policy was that when one adult is with one student, it was acceptable if it was in an “open/visible area”. A classroom with the door open or a classroom with a floor to ceiling window next to the door would qualify. There did not need to be anyone outside, just that anyone who did walk by could see what was going on inside. I think the 3 people, minimum rule also applied.