April 17, 2012
Exercise enthusiasts share a little secret— the undeniable high they experience after a good workout. Once those endorphins kick in, they feel positively energized. Audrey Covello is familiar with the sensation— except this mother of two and dedicated volunteer at Forest Ridge Academy in Schererville, Ind., doesn't have to run a couple of miles to achieve it. She says she simply volunteers in a 3rd grade class or helps prepare students for an academic competition, and she comes away feeling as invigorated as if fresh from the gym, only without the sweat.
To give an idea of just how devoted a volunteer Covello is, she doesn't even have a child in 3rd grade; her two sons are in 6th and 8th grades. And her weekly stint in the classroom is only a small indication of all she does at the school. "One of the reasons why I love 3rd grade is because it's the year kids change intellectually. When I go in there, I am just so energized by those kids, by all their ideas and their thoughts and their actions," she says.
The same effect occurred when she helped the middle schoolers at Forest Ridge get ready for a statewide academic competition recently. Covello has a legal background, and even though she's not practicing law right now, she dove right into preparations for We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution, a contest in which students field questions about the U.S. Constitution from a panel of judges. She worked extensively with students, sharing her knowledge of law and how to apply it. With her help, the team finished first in district competition and second in the state of Indiana. "I was so amazed that these 11- to 14-year-olds were debating very specific clauses of the Constitution, something I used to do with fellow law students in coffee shops, only I was 22 at the time," Covello says. "It just goes to show when a kid is excited about learning something, there's no limit to what he or she can think about and do. It's that energy again...just being in the general vicinity of it...well, it rubs off and I love it."
Ever modest, Covello says it's the school that brings out the best in its parent volunteers. She can't say enough positive things about Forest Ridge and its staff. "Really, the reason I do what I do and why a lot of parents at Forest Ridge do what they do is because of the school and the wonderful environment it creates for our children," she says. Yet there are stories galore from teachers about Covello's commitment and selflessness. Like the time she brought in 100 candy bars and bottles of Gatorade to sell at a fundraising concession stand during a basketball tournament despite the fact that neither of her children participate in sports at the school. Or how during a middle school class trip to Los Angeles (that she naturally helped chaperone), she was the first one down in the morning making waffles for the entire group of 40 at the hotel's self-serve breakfast bar. She's also fond of organizing teacher/staff luncheons during the course of a year. Fourth grade teacher Brian Waddle says of Covello, "It's scary to think about Forest Ridge Academy without her."
For her part, Covello is loath to think of a time when she won't be involved at Forest Ridge. At the same time, she is practical and knows that eventually her sons will move on to a high school since the academy doesn't currently incorporate one. "Maybe I can help in some way there.... I would love to continue. Who wouldn't?" she says. This is just about what you'd expect to hear from someone who says, "Asking me to volunteer is like asking a kid if he or she wants to spend the day at Disney World. That's what it's like for me. It's a blast!"
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Matt Bigelow