Volunteer Spotlight: Col. Steven Abel

Col. Abel reading with a student
Volunteer Teacher Grade School
Col. Steven Abel Lisa Bachman 1st Grade Goodnoe Elementary School

Retired Col. Steven Abel spent 27 years in the Army, served as the NJ Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and spent five years at Rutgers University where he founded a department to care for the university's veterans. However, he was transported right back to his student teaching days the moment he stepped foot back in the classroom.

Q&A with Col. Steven Abel, S.A.G.E.™ volunteer

What motivated you to become a S.A.G.E.™?

SA: I first became aware of the program when I attended a Veterans Day Program at Goodnow Elementary. The student atmosphere was electric and most inviting. That day I spoke to one of the other veterans who was attending; it was that veteran who informed me about the S.A.G.E.™ program. The students and the other veterans' experiences were the two factors that motivated me to volunteer.

Can you please share some of your personal and professional experiences?  How does your volunteer position match your expertise?

My undergraduate degree from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Education; I loved student teaching and knew I had selected the correct profession. Although, following graduation, I entered the Army and stayed 27 years. I then worked as the NJ Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. That was followed by five years at Rutgers University where I founded a department dedicated to taking care of the university’s veterans. The S.A.G.E.™ program has allowed me to get back into the classroom and the feelings I had as a student-teacher.

What is it like being a S.A.G.E.™?  What do you do?

Being a S.A.G.E.™ volunteer in Lisa Bachman’s classroom is an incredibly rewarding experience. I am a reading coach for students who are reading below grade level for the most part. I do read with additional students from time to time who are excited about reading with the ‘colonel.’

What are some of the things you most enjoy about being a S.A.G.E.™?

I enjoy being with the students. These young people are very thoughtful and interested in reading and see it as a learning opportunity. It is especially rewarding to see them progress and hopefully close the gap between their individual reading levels and the appropriate grade level.

What most surprised you about your experience being a S.A.G.E.™?

Given the challenge that they face and in some instances the difficulty they have with reading, their desire to go beyond the task Lisa assigns.

What do you feel students learn from having you be a part of their educational experience?

As you know, reading is a critical skill set so hopefully their reading is improving and will contribute to their future success both in the classroom and in their chosen career path. And, the benefit of interacting with their seniors.

What have students taught you?

That these young people are caring and thoughtful, they understand and complete complex thoughts, they verbally articulate their ideas well.

What do you most look forward to when you are about to volunteer?

The interaction with these young people who are eager to learn. The energy and enthusiasm they show for their classroom work as well as the extra reading tasks we accomplish.

What advice do you have for other seniors considering becoming a S.A.G.E.™?

This is a great opportunity to serve the local community is a special way: contributing to the academic development of our future scholars, citizens, leaders but setting an example that they may one day pay forward.

Q&A with Lisa Bachman, 1st grade teacher

What are some of the logistical benefits for teachers when working with a S.A.G.E.™?

The number one benefit with having a SAGE volunteer is the one on one time students have with the volunteer. The students feel that their voice is heard and that they matter. As a First Grade teacher, I know once a week my students are interacting by practicing their reading or working on word recognition or decoding games with an adult while I am working with other reading groups. There is a routine and both the students and I look forward to the visit.

What are some unexpected benefits you and your students have experienced?

We have found that sometimes the S.A.G.E.™ volunteer is able to follow the same students into the following year or years which is wonderful for consistency and personal connections. Small children all want to feel special and have the opportunity to speak and have a conversation with adults but sometimes as a teacher, those conversations are cut short due to the demands in the classroom. With a S.A.G.E. volunteer, that time can be found and the students’ needs can be honored.

How does having a S.A.G.E.™ in the classroom enrich education?

The experiences of the S.A.G.E.™ volunteer can easily be brought into a quick impromptu discussion. It adds to the richness of the discussion as well as provides opportunities for questions to help build background, especially in young children. 

What are some tips you would share with teachers new to S.A.G.E.™?

I think a few things a teacher can do if they are considering a S.A.G.E.™ volunteer is to set up the visit time that is helpful to you as the teacher. The visitation schedule needs to work for the teacher otherwise it is one more thing on the long list of things to do. I also think that picking a routine activity that is a review or an activity that needs little explanation or training because a regular routine activity makes the visitation seamless.

Q&A with 1st grade students

What's the best part about having a S.A.G.E.™ in your class?

“Because he helps us read.” Emily S
“If it’s a long word, he helps us sound it out.” Shilah
“We play a roll and read dice game with Colonel Abel.” Zeek
“He helps us get smarter.” Hugo
“If we get stuck on something, he can help us.” Bree
“He helps us learn new words.” Emma

What do you want other students to know about learning with a S.A.G.E.™?

"It’s fun working with Col. Abel.” Patrick
“He’s a good helper with reading.” Bobby
“He keeps the papers organized.” Zeek

I look forward to the days our S.A.G.E.™ visits the classroom because:

“So he can help us read better.” James
“Because he’s fun to be with.” Hugo
“Because we get to learn new words when he is here.” Emma
“We know that he will help us learn more stuff.” Bree
“He is very nice” Ms. Bachman’s Class

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