Pinewood Elementary volunteers keep students safe

Holly Kunkel and a group of dedicated Pinewood volunteers wanted to do their part to keep Pinewood Elementary safe.
So for six years now, this small coalition of volunteers has been waiting at the front doors of the school, ready to greet visitors and ensure people coming in have a reason to be there, know where to go and have proper background checks to come in when necessary.
Kunkel has been the leader in keeping the door manned for the past six years, taking this on as part of a jack-of-all-trades role at the school.
She puts in eight hours a day at Pinewood, where the youngest of her four children is now a fourth-grader, but she is only paid for about 3.5 hours of each day during her shifts as the crossing guard and playground paraprofessional.
The rest of her day is spent either manning the front desk, helping teachers by working with small groups of students and helping with fundraisers such as Popcorn Fridays, which raises money for school needs through the parent-teacher organization.
“She goes above and beyond the call of duty,” fellow volunteer Melissa Gallagher said of Kunkel.
“It’s neat to have people like that who just really love being at the school,” added Pinewood co-principal Eric Olson.
“Obviously, [Kunkel] could probably go find a full-time job but she loves being at the school, and so much of her time here ends up being volunteer. We really appreciate it.”
Olson said that before Kunkel and others took on the job, the school relied on office staff to watch out the office window to catch any incoming visitors who did not check into the office as they should.
Besides Kunkel, about half-dozen other dedicated volunteers help keep the front door manned during school hours.
They include Melissa Gallagher, Lisa Hageman, Michelle Hansen, Peggy Henry, Gene Kunkel and Teresa Lundgren, among others. They work in shifts between 45 minutes and two hours, taking over the times when Kunkel is needed elsewhere in the building.
In case of an unusual situation, Olson said they have worked out a protocol for these volunteers so they know the right steps to take if an emergency or something outside the norm should arise.
“If something doesn’t feel right, or if there is a delivery or pickup they’ve never heard of before, [the front door volunteers] are here to catch those things,” Olson said.
“Nothing gets by because they are there, they take care of it and they know what to do. That’s a really good feeling.”
Olson said they have gotten positive feedback from Wright County sheriffs as well as a local parent who works for a metro-area SWAT Team who came in to do an assessment of their school safety procedures.
He called their front door greeters a highlight of the safety plan, especially since it is a small group of people who do the job so they all have a high level of familiarity with the students, regular visitors and procedures.
“For all the people who work up there, it’s really selfless,” Olson said.
For the volunteers themselves, it’s just a matter of doing what they feel is right for Pinewood Elementary.
“I thought it was important to help keep our school safe,” Kunkel said.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.