Get Involved: Parent Volunteers
22 ways to volunteer at your kids' school
Schools rely on parent volunteers to get involved more today than ever before. Vigorous standards, budget constraints, crowded classrooms, overstressed teachers: 21st-century schools have tremendous objectives to meet and often lack the resources needed to accomplish goals. Volunteers fill the gaps. They share their talents and time as assistants, advisors and creative fundraisers.
Katie Leibel-Marin, business director at the Children’s House Montessori School in Wilmington, DE, says parents are asked to disclose special talents when filling out beginning-of-the-year paperwork. “Then we have a bit of a database” of experts to tackle any type of issue that may occur, she explains.
“For instance, our ‘handymen’ are almost always moms, dads or grandfathers who work as general contractors and electricians. When we have a computer problem we can’t figure out? Thank goodness for that IT parent. Our art supplies a mess and overflowing? We have a mom who works as a professional organizer. The list goes on and on, and it’s a great way for parents to meet each other as well as get to know the staff in a slightly different way.”
September is prime time to offer your services to your school, whether through your child’s classroom teacher or through the PTA/PTO. As Leibel-Marin states, there are numerous ways to get involved for any amount of time you have to spare. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Sign up for your school’s PTA or PTO. If it seems like the same two dozen parents are running every PTA event, that’s because they probably are. Parent teacher groups are always in need of volunteers. In fact, a desperate need to fill a vacant VP spot propelled local mom Mary B. into the PTA sphere. As this year’s PTA president at a private school in North Wales, PA, Mary says the work is sometimes all-consuming but she feels it’s a great way to give back to the community. “I have met a lot of wonderful and dedicated moms,” she says. “Having one parent come up to you and thank you for your time or receiving a hand-written thank you card from a teacher truly makes it all worthwhile.”
While a PTA board position like Mary’s does tend to be time-consuming, most committee work can fit into even the busiest schedule. Connect with a PTA representative now and let them know how much time you have to devote to the cause; chances are good you’ll be able to find a fit for both your schedule and your interests.
- Offer your expertise or help in the classroom or for an after-school club.
- Help with crafts, perform a science experiment or share your professional prowess. MK Facebook friend, Natalie Adamcewicz-Wipf plans to spend some time regularly at her daughter’s school this year. “I’ll bring a craft each month to do with the PreK kids, along with offering whatever other help the teacher will need.” If you are computer-savvy, offer your know-how to help with a class website and other technology-related issue.
- Have a green thumb? Do some landscaping around the school or water plants.
- Help grade papers.
- Chaperone events.
- Share musical talents.
- Volunteer for fitness days and sports events.
- Help with cultural days — share meals and stories.
- Read to students. Leibel-Marin says that “Mystery Reader” is a favorite job for parents at Children’s House Montessori. “A special adult comes to their child’s class each Friday to share one of their favorite books from home,” she explains. “Additionally, the reader may bring library books to share with the class for a week or so, sparking new, topical discussions; and giving the teachers and kids access to books that the school did not have.”
- Donate art materials or sports equipment.
- Reshelve books in the library.
- Decorate hallways, library, and classrooms.
- Help in the cafeteria or on the playground.
- Volunteer at book fairs and library events.
- Assist the office staff. School office workers are often overwhelmed with security, visitors and a ton of administrative tasks. While many parents overlook the office as a place to volunteer, it is a great place to start.
- Greet and sign in visitors. This is one of the main duties of members of the national organization Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). Fathers, grandfathers and uncles volunteer at least one day per year to monitor hallways and entrances, as well as eat lunch and interact with students. According to the National Center for Fathering, “Many school principals have reported that the mere presence of a Watch D.O.G.S. dad dramatically reduces reports of bullying.”
- Sort mail.
- Run for a seat on the school board.
- Sign up for safety, health or academic committees.
- Write letters to Congress.
- Join state PTA organizations to make changes in laws, policies and programs.
Volunteers are an immeasurable asset to school communities. They make a difference in and out of the classroom and help create brighter futures for children. What will you sign up for this year?
Janet Tumelty is a freelance writer and South Jersey mother who frequently volunteers in her kids’ schools.