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Monday
Oct182010

Volunteering

This page covers:

  • Tips on getting involved in your child’s school
  • The types of volunteer activities in the classroom, as well as in the school as a whole.
  • Volunteering during off-hours if you work full time.
  • Joining the PTA

With budget cuts at every turn, volunteering has increasingly become the life blood of most schools. Some schools have a volunteer requirement; other schools beg for volunteers. No matter how a school uses its volunteers, your getting involved is a wonderful way to demonstrate to your child how much you value education in general and their learning environment in particular.  Here’s some food for thought when it comes to giving your precious free time to help out your kid’s school:

Note: Since we're on the topic of school volunteering... Sometimes it helps to ask Why is there such a need, and how desperate is it? You've probably heard the term "closing the gap" and maybe wondered what it's about, or even what it might take to fix the problem. Leading national voices say we parents have the power to make a difference - and there are plenty of reasons here in Portland we should be motivated get involved.

How Involved to Get

If your school is well-organized in its volunteer effort we suggest you tread lightly your first year there so you don’t over-commit and get pulled in 10 different directions. This is especially important for those of us who have a hard time saying “No.” By hanging back a bit and observing, things will start to crystallize and you’ll get a better sense of where your skills will fit in.  If your new school is less organized and has a greater need for volunteers, then you might be diving into the deep end.  Either way, after your first year at the school you should know where you want to put your time and effort, and how much of it you can give while still maintaining balance in your life. 

Note: Read one mom's story about becoming an activist, and her tips for other parents.  And if you just want to focus on your child's school, other parents have great suggestions.

Volunteering in the Classroom

Some teachers love in-class help, others find it too distracting for the kids. Generally speaking, the younger the child, the more common it’s welcome. The classroom volunteer duties take many forms – helping with small groups,  copying or collating learning materials, or even serving as the occasional field trip chaperone.  Often a teacher has a sign up sheet outside the room for shifts, so if you are not dropping or picking up your child you might need to schedule times by emailing the teacher or by setting up a regular time to come in. Increasingly common are emailing lists or online “groups” through which you’ll get plenty of solicitations for helping out.

Virtually every classroom in elementary school has a room parent or two (or three) that help with parties, events, and presents for teachers, etc.  It can be tricky to be the singular room parent your first year at a new school since the ins and outs are still unknown.  But if you can sign up as part of a team of parents it’s a great way to get right in the middle of things.

General School Volunteering

Most schools have campus-wide programs that benefit the entire student body, and that need a group of volunteers to help it thrive.  These might be anything from a smart reader group, the science fair, or a playground improvement committee. If your school is on the ball they will have a list of such possibilities that you can flirt with, or get fully involved.  And if your school is not that organized, then perhaps you can be a driving force in creating one of the most transformative elements any school can have -- a well-organized volunteer corps.

Volunteering During Off Hours

If you want to help out but don’t have the time in the middle of the day, first of all feel no guilt – we all do what we can.  Look for something that fits your lifestyle.  Many schools have a volunteer questionnaire that the PTA will send home to ferret out what parents are able to do.  If there is no questionnaire, email the PTA president and let him or her know what you have to offer on weekends or evenings.  There are endless ways for parents to help their school outside the work-a-day world, from weekend clean up days to gardening to clerical tasks to calling for donations. 

Joining the PTA/PTO

Nearly all schools have a PTA or PTO that invites parents and teachers to work together to make decisions about the school.  The Parent Teacher Association/Organization also does fundraising to sponsor school events and fund projects.  Joining and attending meetings is a great way to get involved straight off the bat – and to get the lay of the land for how your school is organized and where help is needed. 

Think about how you might enjoy getting involved at your kid’s school and try to marry that with what the school’s needs are. And if your child is new to full-time school, figure that volunteering at school is going to become a new component of your life, no matter how small a portion it might be.

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