Back to School: Getting Involved

by Carol Band

Public schools today are increasingly dependent on fund-raisers and on volunteers. Luckily, there are ways beyond bake sales for parents to get involved and to make a difference.

Volunteering in your child's school is a great way to meet other parents and forge new friendships. It's never easier to make new friends than through your child.

"I always volunteer to help the teacher set up the classroom before school starts," Says Suzanne Rothschild, a mom of two teens. "The teachers appreciate the extra set of hands and it gives me a good chance to begin to build a relationship before the year starts."

Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book Goes to School, concurs: "These days, there are so many parents helicoptering around the school to spy on their kids. The best volunteers solicit input from the teacher and ask, 'Would you like help making copies? Do you need anything from Staples?'"

Part of volunteering or participating in a fund-raiser is to let your child know that his or her education is important to you, DeBroff points out. "Make sure that your role is visible to your child. He'll be proud that you are helping out and you'll gain insight into your child's school day.

Tips for Volunteering:

  • Pick one or two events or fund-raisers that you can get behind and support those efforts.

  • Volunteer for areas that interest you. Were you an art major in college? Work to organize a show of student work. If you are mathematical, offer to help tutor students after school or to serve as treasurer of the PTO.

  • Grab a friend and sign up to co-chair a committee or run a fund-raiser together. It's more fun and easier to share the workload.

  • Be a guest teacher for a special topic. "I work full-time and feel bad that I'm not able to be a room parent or the mom who bakes cupcakes," says Angela Bart. "Instead, I take one morning off twice during the school year and do a workshop for the class on a topic related to their science curriculum. Naturally, I arrange it with the teacher first. My daughter really loves having me come in as a guest teacher and I really enjoy seeing her and meeting her classmates."

  • Know when to say "no." If you are feeling overbooked, re-evaluate your commitments. Leave organizations and committees that no longer give you satisfaction. "I was on a school fund-raising committee," says Laurie Stephenson. "When the meetings became too much of a time drain, I offered to help out during their events. It's been much more rewarding and I still feel like part of the group."

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More: Parents Are Going Beyond Bake Sales to Help Support Public Education