It’s common to hear about teens doing volunteer work; some want to help a specific organization, some are looking for ways to keep busy and others hope to round out their resumes. But Haley Betron has taken volunteering to the next level. Only just entering her junior year at Westwood High School, Betron has already accumulated multiple awards: the National Charity League’s Mission Belle Award, the President’s Gold Award, the Girl Scouts Gold Award and Westwood High School’s Volunteer of the Year.
Betron visits elementary schools and preschools year-round to speak, read books, play guitar and sing songs — some of which she wrote herself — with inspiring messages about kindness, self-esteem and aspiring to bigger things. We caught up with Betron this past may as she stopped by Kathy Caraway Elementary School in Round Rock ISD.
Even in the final days of the school year, and at the end of the school day at that, Betron held a class of 1st graders mesmerized as she read books with titles like “I’m Gonna Like Me” and “Incredible You,” alternating with songs called “Dream Big” and “I Like Myself When I Am….”
“Sometimes things don’t go your way,” she told the group sitting on the rug in front of her. “But it’s important to love yourself anyway.” After a 30-minute lesson with the class, Betron sat down with us to talk about her passion for volunteering.
AFM: What got this started for you?
Betron: I was in student council in 6th grade, and we visited a nursing home. Their entertainment budget had been cut, so I started going there on Tuesdays and playing for them, and then I started visiting elementary schools, since I love kids so much. And it just grew from there.
AFM: It’s a big leap from playing music to putting together a whole package for kids. How did you do it?
Betron: I’ve been playing guitar for almost 10 years, and I love babysitting. So, I just combined two of my loves together and started teaching lessons about kindness and gratitude, because I thought it was really important to share those lessons in schools. You learn a lot in school, but I don’t think you learn enough about how to be kind.
AFM: What have you learned about connecting with children?
Betron: I’ve learned a lot through each lesson I do. I’ve added hand movements and incorporated kids’ ideas into the songs, so the kids are more interested in what they’re learning.
AFM: Where was your first class?
Betron: Last summer, I taught at the Williams Community School and the Capital School of Austin. They’re both year-round schools, and they are preschools. A lot of their kids have special needs and special learning differences. I went in and taught a music class once a week.
AFM: Tell us about the songs you choose to sing and the messages you’re teaching.
Betron: I compose some of my own original songs. They’re mostly about being kind, being the best you, but I also use nursery rhyme-type songs and make them my own. For example, using the “Wheels on the Bus” song, I made it into sharing the kids’ ideas. So, I incorporate kindness and gratitude and positivity into everyday “jingles.”
AFM: How do you decide what books to use in your lessons?
Betron: I created my lessons based off the themes of kindness, gratitude, the best you and friendship. Once I started creating the lessons, I went to a couple of bookstores and searched for books that went along with my lesson plan.
AFM: Who pays for the books you’ve bought?
Betron: I use my babysitting money, primarily. I’ve gotten a couple of donations, but mostly it’s just my own money.
AFM: How do you find the teachers and schools to work with?
Betron: I researched a lot about different audiences of kids. I focus on kids with special needs during the summer.
AFM: What sort of feedback do you get from the kids?
Betron: It’s been really amazing, and it’s shown me how much of an impact I’m making. It’s great to see them so engaged with the lesson and singing along. That has helped me learn a lot about what kinds of songs and what kinds of books they respond to and like.
AFM: What about feedback from teachers?
Betron: The teachers seem to enjoy it. Plus, I bet it’s a nice break for them to have somebody else teaching for a little bit.
AFM: How many of these lessons do you do?
Betron: During the school year, it’s a little bit more difficult for me, so I do them about four times a month. But during the summer, I go twice a week.
AFM: You have two more years of high school. Any idea what you’ll do after that?
Betron: This year, I’m using my “off” block to teach at schools. I like music therapy. Maybe I’ll be a counselor or a teacher.
By Sherida Mock