When my oldest was in elementary school, I loved volunteering at her school. If my volunteer duties were in the classroom, I could sneak in a hug or two and could listen in on her lessons. If I was in the copy room, I felt pleased to be supporting the teachers and I could also get a peek at projects to come. I truly felt like I’d struck gold, though, when I did a shift at the middle school store. My co-volunteer and I set up at the edge of the cafeteria where we blended into the background. We got to observe the middle schoolers at their most relaxed and, let me tell you, it was better than watching reality TV!
Volunteering provides so many benefits for everyone involved. It feels wonderful to help the hard-working teachers and staff and to get to know them better. It’s also fun to have extra time with your child during the day and to hear what they are learning. As with my middle school experience, you can observe the dynamics of your child’s day, too, which helps you to be more supportive should the need arise.
Many parents would love to volunteer, but don’t know how to get connected with opportunities and end up missing out. Here are some ways you can be involved at your child’s school:
There are so many ways to help in an elementary classroom – especially in the younger grades. You can help with classroom projects, be a classroom reader, assist at workstations (also known as centers), help stuff take-home folders and more. Many younger elementary classrooms offer regular roles, allowing you to schedule volunteering into your routine. If a set time does not work well for you, there are also many single-task volunteer opportunities.
When students move into upper elementary grades, the classroom volunteer opportunities drop off sharply by design as teachers work to build students’ independence in preparation for middle school. Even so, there may be special projects that require parental help in the classroom and chaperones are almost always needed for field trips.
Once your child reaches middle or high school, the general classroom volunteer opportunities are essentially non-existent. However, if your child is involved in a special class, group or club, there are often many opportunities to help. For example, student band groups need help with chaperoning, fundraising, and loading equipment, among other things.
Reach out to your child’s teacher – ideally at the start of school if you are interested in a recurring position – to find out which volunteer opportunities are available.
Other school opportunities
Most schools count on and welcome parent help in a variety of ways and at all grade levels. Librarians need help with book check-in and checkout, sorting and shelving. The front office may welcome help with phone answering, mail sorting or photocopying. Specials (art, music and P.E.) teachers often need help with special events or projects too. Contact the appropriate staff position or sign up through the school parent organization (below) to offer your volunteer services.
Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) and Booster Clubs are all names for the same thing – groups of parents who join together to support their children’s school. While the responsibilities and authorities of these groups may vary by school district, most operate similarly, raising funds at the campus level through membership and other fundraising activities. Those funds are then used to benefit the individual campus. Examples include purchasing new playground equipment or classroom supplies, funding field trips or guest speakers and providing support for staff development.
Parent organizations are run by a board. If you would like to be involved in your child’s school at a top-level, you might consider volunteering for a board position such as secretary, treasurer or president. Typically, elections are held annually, and your service commitment is one year. Parent organizations also rely on numerous committees to achieve their goals, so volunteer opportunities abound there as well. You could volunteer to lead a committee or to be a committee member. Your time commitment will vary depending upon whether you are a chair or a member, as well as upon the type of committee and the number of total committee members.
One of the larger committees at my daughter’s school is for staff appreciation. While the chairs of that committee are responsible for approximately 100 hours of work during the school year, committee members can do as little as drop off paper plates or a dessert for an event.
You should receive information from your school on how to join your school’s parent organization. If you do not, don’t hesitate to contact someone in the front office.
Many school districts now have educational foundations. These organizations work to raise funds to cover the gap between tax monies, needed funding and the amount the schools receive after the state “recaptures” a certain percentage that is funneled to other school districts. Educational foundations offer many ways to volunteer in their various fundraising campaigns. Those who are not interested in fundraising can also be connected to a role that will be a better fit. Contact your district’s educational foundation directly to learn about volunteer opportunities.
That phrase often used in relation to parenting – the days may be long, but the years are short – is true for volunteering as well. If you have the desire to help, reach out to the appropriate person and make it happen, or just like with many things in life, the opportunities will slip by. You’ll be glad you reached out as you’ll feel more connected to your child’s school experience, and you’ll be providing much appreciated help to your child’s teacher and other school staff.
Alison Bogle is a writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. A former fourth grade teacher, she now enjoys writing about children and education. You can also catch her talking about articles from Austin Family magazine each Thursday morning on FOX 7 Austin.