In most districts parents have the opportunity to volunteer in some capacity in their child's school. Volunteering need not require a large commitment of time. The concept of quality time applies to volunteering just as it does to parenting. Your involvement might range from a one-time only basis to a once-a-day basis. Consider whether you have special skills that the school can use. The chart below lists various opportunities for volunteering in school.
If you are interested in volunteering, give the principal a call. She may recommend opportunities for helping out in school or may suggest that you talk with the teacher directly about assisting in the classroom. If your school district has a volunteer coordinator, you may need to go through her to try to match your skills and interests with the school's needs.
A few words about volunteering protocol. Do not overextend yourself. Make sure that you are able to be there when you say you can. The school will be relying on you to show up. If you are assigned to a classroom, remember that you are there to assist the teacher, so take your cues from her. It may take a while for the two of you to develop chemistry. The teacher may be insecure about having someone observe her so avoid giving her advice or constructive criticism. Also, do not distract the teacher while she is conducting a lesson. In your interactions with students, be positive, encouraging, and respectful.
School involvement is more difficult for parents who work outside the home or are single parents. Their limited time or energy may keep them from helping out in school. While this may engender feelings of guilt, it is understandable if parents are unable to be very involved in school affairs - and it need not hamper their child's education. A parent does not need to volunteer at a book fair or chaperone on a class trip to demonstrate the importance of education. This message is conveyed most importantly at home in the way parents talk about matters of education and the priority they place on schoolwork. For parents who are occupied during the day and wish to contribute, opportunities are available to help out during non-school hours. You might offer to take care of the class rabbit during school vacation, manage the school booth at a weekend community fair, or sew costumes for the school play. If you are employed during the day, check whether your employer will give you release time to share your skills with students in school or allow you to arrange a class visit to your place of work.
A good starting point for becoming involved in your child's school is to join the Parent-Teacher Association (P.T.A.). Some school districts have a Parent-Teacher Organizations (P.T.O.), which has no state or national organization, as the P.T.A. does but which serves the same purpose as the local P.T.A. The national P.T.A., of which local P.T.A. members are automatically members, is the largest parent group in the country, with about seven million members. It uses its power to lobby on behalf of issues related to children (for example, asbestos in the schools or the nutritional value of school lunch programs).
Joining the P.T.A. and participating in its activities is a good way for mothers and fathers to meet people, gain specific information, and obtain the perspectives of other parents. Many parents join their local P.T.A. but few participate. They may view the P.T.A. as primarily a social organization. While P.T.A.'s may arrange social activities for parents and teachers to foster a spirit of cooperation, these organizations are more action-oriented than in years past. Most go beyond raising funds although this function remains important, especially in light of the decreased funding for public education. They may also develop programs, provide speakers, offer forums for discussion of parent concerns, arrange activities to honor teachers, and sponsor student activities. Some P.T.A.'s are also forces for change, rallying parent support on behalf of a particular issue.
Opportunities for School Volunteering
- serve as room parent
- tutor students in the classroom
- read stories to students during recess
- assist at a class party
- speak to your child's class or school on a topic of student interest
- start an after-school computer club
- supervise children in an after-school recreational program
- prepare school bulletin boards
- serve as an aide on a school bus
- photograph students at school activities
- work as a clerical aide (for example, grading papers)
- work as an aide in the library, main office, cafeteria, or on the playground
- develop or work at a homework hotline
- organize teacher appreciation activities
- prepare food for an ethnic festival
- help write a school newsletter
- help run the book or science fair
- arrange assembly programs
- develop and help run a "guardian angel" program where parents are called if their child has not shown up for school and they have not notified the school of her absence
- develop a list of community resources for parents and children
- recruit other parents as school volunteers
- help construct a playground
- donate plants, books, carpeting, or other items
- help plant trees