The first days of a new school year are filled with excitement, friends, instructions – and an avalanche of colored flyers from school. Coming through loud and clear is the theme “We need help! Can you volunteer?!”
You might develop a bad case of volunteer fever and sign up for every opportunity under the sun. Before you do, put on the brakes and put in some thought to make sure that the volunteer spot you choose is the best fit for YOU.
Being a school volunteer is going to cost you something – time and labor! But it can be fun also, and gratifying to know that you are making a contribution to the place where your student spends a large portion of the day. Getting to know your child’s school, staff, and teachers better, can make you feel that you are a part of things and can give you an awareness of what a typical school day is like. You may make some great new friends among parents who have kids in the same class or activities. Your child will (hopefully!) take a positive view of your hanging out at his or her school on a regular basis. As for gratitude, you will never meet a group of people more appreciative of volunteers than our school teachers and staff.
If you are a working mom or have other responsibilities that limit how much time you can give:
You may want to opt for one-time or short-term obligations. Things like class parties, teacher appreciation week, and the book fair will need volunteers for a short block of time. You pop in, enjoy the task and camaraderie, then you leave knowing you made a difference. Not only are you not committing to any long-term role, you can also dabble in a variety of different activities this way, whichever might appeal to you!
If you can commit a block of time weekly:
Teachers and staff can always use help with tasks that need doing every week. Things like stuffing take-home folders, making copies one morning a week, or re-shelving books in the media center for one or two hours on Friday afternoon may seem like a small achievement to you. For the classroom teacher or media center director, however, your help and companionship may be a huge blessing and just make life a little bit sweeter.
If you want to get more deeply involved:
The PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) is a great way to channel your efforts to contribute something to the school. The PTO will be sponsoring and organizing fundraisers and events that benefit the school as a whole. Projects like a school carnival or picnic are fun for the kids, but also require a small army of adult helpers to make them a success. When you help with a fundraiser that is for the purpose of new playground equipment or help paint a mural in the school hallway, you know you are making an investment in the future of the school that may outlast the time that your child is there. Attending PTO meetings regularly is an important way you can contribute, and if you want to go the extra mile, you might decide to serve as a PTO Officer for the school year.
If you like working one-on-one:
You might enjoy volunteering with an individual teacher in support of a specific program. The art teacher may need help with a fundraiser for art supplies, or the music teacher may need costumes or props made for the school program. Often the fine arts teachers in schools are like a one-man-band, with the teacher juggling many components of the program as well as teaching. She or he may be delighted to have help with specific tasks, or with having someone else be the volunteer coordinator.
SOME DO’S AND DON’TS FOR SCHOOL VOLUNTEERS:
- DO ask what you can do to help. Every school, grade level, and teacher is different, and their needs change depending on a number of factors.
- DO enjoy developing a relationship with teachers, staff, and other volunteers. You may enjoy working together for years as your children move through multiple grades, schools, and activities.
- DO know that every contribution helps, no matter how small it seems. When a bunch of people give a little bit consistently, big things can be accomplished.
- DO take into account whether you prefer working one-on-one, in a small group, or if you are comfortable with large groups of people, such as being chaperone on a field trip. When you are socially comfortable, you will enjoy the volunteer experience more, and be likely to continue.
- DON’T be pressured into over-committing – you know what is the best fit for you, your family, and situation.
- DON’T be negative – focus on the task and not the drama that sometimes happens when human beings are involved. We are all imperfect.
- DON’T underestimate what you have to offer – you may have just the positive attitude that is needed to help get things accomplished!
Finally, being a school volunteer sets a good example for our students of how to cooperate and work together toward a common goal. And it frees up teachers and school staff so they can do their most important job – educate our children!