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Getting Involved at Your Child's School
Whether their kids are just starting kindergarten or entering the final year of high school, there are many good reasons for parents to volunteer at school. It's a great way to show your kids that you take an interest in their education, and it sends a positive message that you consider school a worthwhile cause.
Many schools now have to raise their own funds for activities and supplies that once were considered basic necessities, and parent volunteers are essential to organizing and chaperoning these fundraising events and other school activities.
Reasons to Get Involved
Parent volunteers offer a huge resource and support base for the school community while showing their kids the importance of participating in the larger community.
Not only will the school reap the benefits of your involvement — you will, too. By interacting with teachers, administrators, and other parents on a regular basis, you'll gain a firsthand understanding of your child's daily activities. You'll also tap into trends and fads of school life that can help you communicate with your kids as they grow and change (all without intruding on their privacy or personal space).
Even if you haven't been involved in the past, it's never too late to start. In fact, it may be more important than ever to get involved when kids reach secondary school. Some parents may experience "volunteer burnout" by the time their kids enter high school or decide that the schools don't need them as much then. Many parents who volunteered a lot of time during their kids' elementary years return to full-time careers by the time their kids are teens, so there's often a shortage in the secondary schools.
Finding the Right Opportunity
One of the best starting points for getting involved is a parent-teacher conference or open house. These are usually scheduled early in each school year, and are a great opportunity to approach your child's teachers or principal about volunteer involvement.
If you have something to offer, or if you just want to help out in whatever way you can, discuss the possibilities with teachers, who might arrange something with you personally or direct you to a department head or administrator who can answer your questions and make suggestions. It's also a good idea to join the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) or parents' advisory council.
Here are just some of the ways a parent volunteer can help:
- act as a classroom helper
- mentor or tutor students
- help children with special needs
- volunteer in a school computer lab
- help organize, cater, or work at fundraising activities such as bake sales or car washes
- act as a lunchroom or playground monitor
- help to plan and chaperone field trips, track meets, and other events that take place away from the school
- help to plan and chaperone in-school events (dances, proms, or graduation ceremonies)
- organize or assist with a specific club or interest group (if you have an interest in an activity that isn't currently available to students, offer to help get a group started — for example, a chess club or cycling team)
- assist coaches and gym teachers with sports and fitness programs or work in the school concession stand at sporting events
- help the school administrators prepare grant proposals, letter-writing campaigns, or press releases or provide other administrative assistance
- attend school board meetings
- work as a library assistant or offer to help with story time or reading assistance in the school library
- sew costumes or build sets for theatrical and musical productions
- work with the school band or orchestra or coach music students individually
- help out with visual arts, crafts, and design courses and projects
- hold a workshop for students in trade or technical programs
- spend some time with a specific club or interest group (ask the the teacher who sponsors the group)
- volunteer to speak in the classroom or at a career day, if you have a field of expertise that you'd like to share
- supervise or judge experiments at a science fair
Remember that not everyone is suited for the same type of involvement — you may have to "try on" a number a few activities before you find something that feels right. If you're at a loss for how you can help, just ask your child's teacher, who will likely be glad to help you think of something!
Questions to Ask
When you offer to help out, find out how much of a time commitment is expected and if it will be ongoing. Are you going to repair the costumes for the spring musical or will you be expected to keep the drama department's supplies in good condition year-round? Are you chaperoning a track meet or coaching the whole season?
Be sure to ask if any financial costs are associated with your volunteer activities. If you're chaperoning a field trip, for example, find out if you'll be required to pay for transportation and admissions costs. Ask if you'll need to transport students in your own vehicle or if a school bus will be provided.
If you're organizing or helping out with an activity that will take place off the school grounds, be sure to find out if there are any specific school regulations you need to keep in mind or any liability issues you should consider.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when signing up to volunteer:
- Make it clear before you begin just how much time you're willing to volunteer. Even stay-at-home parents don't have an unlimited amount of time to volunteer — many parents have other activities and interests, as well as other kids to care for. Don't be afraid to say no if you're being asked to do more than you feel comfortable with — just try to say it early enough so that someone else can be found to take your place, because many trips and activities can't be taken unless the school has a certain number of chaperones or supervisors.
- Start small. Don't offer to coordinate the holiday bake sale, the band recital, and a swim meet all at once. If you've taken on too much, find out if you can delegate some duties to other interested parents.
- Don't give your child special treatment or extra attention when you're volunteering at the school. Follow your child's cues to find out how much interaction works for both of you. Most kids enjoy having their parents involved, but if yours seems uncomfortable with your presence at the school or with your involvement in a favorite activity, consider taking a more behind-the-scenes approach. Make it clear that you aren't there to spy — you're just trying to help out the school.
- Get frequent feedback from the teachers and students you're working with. Find out what's most and least helpful to them, and ask what you can do to make the most of the time you spend on school activities. It's important to keep the lines of communication open among teachers, administrators, students, and volunteers, and to be flexible and responsive as the needs of the students and the school change.
Remember that volunteering not only benefits your kids, but will enrich the classroom, the whole school, and the entire community by providing students with positive interaction, support, and encouragement.
And don't underestimate the students — you may feel that what you have to offer might not interest them or might be above their heads, but you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. You'll help build skills, confidence, and self-esteem that will last beyond their school days.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2013
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