Volunteering at School

One of the most important things parents can do to support public education and become a part of the school community is to volunteer in some way.  When you give your time and effort to your child’s school, it’s much easier to have your voice heard when you have a problem or a concern.  Volunteering is the best way to get to know the school staff, and to really know what’s going on and how to get things done.  Volunteering in school shows your child that you take education seriously and you are in partnership with the teacher.

Research indicates a positive relationship between parent and community involvement at school and good outcomes for students.  Positive outcomes for students include improved academic achievement, better school attendance, a stronger engagement in school, higher academic motivation, and improved behavior and social skills. Strong effective schools have strong community support!

Parents usually think that volunteering at school means that they have to go in every week on the same day at the same time.  That’s not so.  When parents are able to do that, it’s wonderful.    But there are lots of different ways of volunteering, some every now and then, some after school hours, and even some from home.

Volunteer activities that can take place after school hours include mentoring students who are working on projects, judging the annual science fair, running concessions for the ball teams, or chaperoning school events.  Some parents serve on a school improvement team, mentor a student with a particular career interest, help write a long-range plan for the school system, or work on fundraising activities and events. Many parents are able to organize these kinds of commitments around their work schedules.

There are many volunteer activities that take place during school hours, but only occasionally.  Teachers need help with class parties and events a few times a year.  Parents are often very helpful on field trips, particularly walking field trips.  Field days require extensive set-up, supervision, and clean-up – not to mention handing out the drinks and refreshments!  Many schools ask parents to supervise the lunch room on Teacher Appreciation Day, so teachers can have a chance to enjoy a nice, relaxed lunch.  Employers are often willing to give parents an occasional afternoon off to participate in a school event.

Many parents and other community members enjoy volunteering during the school day, tutoring children or just helping in the classroom.  Teachers can use help with bulletin boards, classroom websites, running off copies, organizing instructional materials, laminating and cutting out materials, and other organizational and clerical tasks.  As the state cuts the funding for teacher assistants, this kind of organizational/clerical support will become extremely important to all teachers, whether in the regular classroom, the media center, or in specialized classrooms.

Every school needs parents who are willing to serve in leadership roles. Parent leaders are officers in the PTA, and they join the school improvement committee, volunteer to be class parents, and organize fundraisers.  Many parents run for the school board or serve on district level committees.  Strong school systems need strong parental support, and parent leaders are much appreciated for their commitment to children and education.

Volunteers at school are required to follow important guidelines.  Everyone who works in a school building, including volunteers, has an ethical obligation to maintain confidentiality.  Nobody wants to hear her child being discussed in the next aisle over at the grocery store!  What happens at school has to stay at school.  If volunteers have concerns, it’s appropriate to discuss those concerns with the teacher or the school principal.

Volunteers are important partners in education, but they are not part of the school staff.  As such, it is inappropriate for volunteers to discipline children, communicate with other parents, or evaluate children’s work.  Volunteers are not responsible for instruction or classroom management; rather, they support teachers in providing instruction and maintaining an orderly environment.

In many public school systems, potential volunteers must fill out an application form and provide information for a background check.  This is for the safety and protection of all the students and the school staff.  Many charter schools require parents to give a certain number of volunteer hours a month to the school.

There’s a volunteer activity for everyone, if we only take the time and trouble to think about it.  Do something that interests you, otherwise it will be a chore rather than a pleasure.  We already have too many chores in our lives!  Talk to your child’s teacher, check out the website, or ask to speak to someone in the office about volunteering.  All it takes is willingness and reliability.

Public schools belong to the community.  We are all accountable for the education of every child in our community.  As John Dewey said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

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This article is excerpted from The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School, available at http://www.amazon.com/Savvy-Parents-Guide-Public-School/dp/1500470813.

The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School is an invaluable resource for parents of school-age children.  Alice Wellborn offers a practical guide to help parents navigate the frustrating world of public education.  Designed to empower parents to work effectively with teachers and school administrators, the book provides parents with the information and tools they need to become strong partners in their child’s school community.

Alice Wellborn, M.A. has been a licensed school psychologist for over 35 years (and the mother of three sons for almost 30 years!)  She received the NC School Psychology Association Presidential Award of Honor in 2002 for her advocacy on behalf of children.  Alice is the education specialist at FlyLady, and a bi-monthly columnist at her local newspaper on topics related to public school.  Her weekly blog is featured at both flylady.net and schoolsavvyparents.com. Alice’s Facebook page, No More Parents Left Behind, features questions and comments about education and parenting.  Alice believes that strong parent/teacher partnerships are a vital part of effective public education.

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