By Alice Wellborn
Everyday Education 

Volunteers Are Vital Educational Partners

 


In Transylvania County, we are lucky enough to live in a community with a strong commitment to children and education. Parents, grandparents, retirees, college students and local businesses make it a priority to support our local schools.

One of the most important things parents can do to support public education and become a part of the school community is to volunteer in some way. When you give your time and effort to your child’s school, it’s much easier to have your voice heard when you have a problem or a concern. Volunteering is the best way to get to know the school staff and to really know what’s going on and how to get things done. Volunteering in school shows your child that you take education seriously

Research indicates a positive relationship between parent and community involvement in school and good outcomes for students, including improved academic achievement, better school attendance, a stronger engagement in school, higher academic motivation, and improved behavior and social skills.

Parents usually think that volunteering at school means that they have to go in every week on the same day at the same time. That’s not so. When parents are able to do that, it’s wonderful. But there are lots of different ways of volunteering, some every now and then, some after school hours and even some from home.

Volunteer activities that can take place after school hours include mentoring students who are completing their senior projects, judging the annual science fair, running concessions for the ball teams, chaperoning school events, serving on the School Improvement Team, mentoring students with a particular career interest and working on fundraising activities and events. Many parents are able to organize these commitments around their work schedules.

There are many volunteer activities that take place during school hours but only occasionally. Teachers need help with class parties and events a few times a year. Parents are often very helpful on field trips, particularly walking field trips. Field Day requires extensive set-up, supervision and clean-up – not to mention handing out the drinks and refreshments. Many schools ask parents to supervise the lunch room on Teacher Appreciation Day, so teachers can have a chance to enjoy a nice, relaxed lunch. Employers are often willing to give parents an occasional afternoon off to participate in a school event.

Many parents and other community members enjoy volunteering during the school day, tutoring children or just helping in the classroom. Teachers can use help with bulletin boards, classroom websites, running off copies, organizing instructional materials, laminating and cutting out materials, and other organizational and clerical tasks. As the state cuts the funding for teacher assistants, this kind of organizational/clerical support will become extremely important to all teachers, whether in the regular classroom, the media center or in specialized classrooms.

Every school needs parents who are willing to serve in leadership roles. Parent leaders are officers in the PTO or OPT, and they join the school improvement committee, volunteer to be class parents and organize fundraisers. Many parents have run for the school board or served on district level committees. Strong school systems need strong parental support, and parent leaders are much appreciated.

Volunteering at school also involves following important guidelines. Anyone who works in a school building has to be aware that maintaining confidentiality is an ethical obligation that applies to everyone. Nobody wants to hear their child discussed in the next aisle over at Food Lion. What happens at school stays at school. If volunteers have concerns, it’s appropriate to discuss those concerns with the teacher or the school principal.

Volunteers are important partners in education, but they are not part of the school staff. As such, it is inappropriate for volunteers to discipline children or evaluate children’s work. Volunteers are not responsible for instruction; rather, they support instruction.

In Transylvania County Schools, the Volunteer Handbook and volunteer application form are available on the website under District Information. For the safety and protection of students and staff, potential volunteers are asked to provide four character references (at least one from a school employee) and the information necessary for a background check.

At Brevard Academy, all parents are required to give two volunteer hours per month (or $5 per hour) to the school, as described in the Family Agreement Form. The PTO’s volunteer contact form is available under the Get Involved tab on the website. No references or background checks are required.

There’s a volunteer activity for everyone, if we only take the time and trouble to think about it. Do something that interests you, otherwise it will be a chore rather than a pleasure. We already have too many chores in our lives. Talk to your child’s teacher, or ask to speak to someone in the office about volunteering. All it takes is willingness and reliability.

Public schools belong to the community. We are all accountable for the education of every child in Transylvania County. As John Dewey said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

(Wellborn is currently a school psychologist in Transylvania County schools.)

 
 

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