The importance of the parents volunteering at elementary schools is often overlooked. Nevertheless they are a key piece to keeping the school day running smoothly. Schools rely on monitors to take care of students during lunch and recess. Teachers are increasingly in need to assistants to help with tasks as more demands from educational standards occupy their lesson time. Volunteers also make possible special events and after school activities that the staff alone would not be able to handle on their own.
Even more than just being a second level of staff, volunteers provide an extra layer of social security and authority to keep kids feeling comfortable in school. This creates a more effective learning environment. Sometimes that little bit of attention from another adult can motivate one student to feel more confident or keep the next one from breaking the rules.
Getting involved with your child’s school is also personally rewarding. If you’re a stay-at-home or work-at-home parent, like myself, it’s a great way to get out of the house and interact with other adults in a positive way. Even if you work during the day, there are still opportunities to help with after school events. Time spent in the school gives parents an important connection to the teaching staff and local community, which can bring you closer to your children as they grow up. It doesn’t matter if you’re there daily or just once in a while; you still have a chance to make a big impact. If you’re ready to volunteer, here are five different ways you can get involved.
Join the PTO
For those parents with excellent organizational skills and wanting to get involved with leading the direction of the school, becoming a member of the Parent Teacher Organization (or whatever your school calls it) is the job for you. PTOs are instrumental in fund raising activities, organizing special events, and working with the school staff to make sure parents have their voices heard on topics of curriculum and policies. PTOs may meet weekly or monthly and may require an extra bit of time and dedication outside of meetings to organize events.
Become at Hall/Lunch/Recess Monitor
If you’re ready to dedicate a chunk of your time each day and be a constant presence in the school, signing up to be a monitor is for you. Working to keep kids organized and in line during lunch and recess, or just keeping an eye on things in the hallways or larger schools, the monitors are an integral part of the staff and easily recognized by the students. Being a regular daily position, some school districts pay their monitors as part of the staff, which can be a convenient way to make some extra money for stay-at-home parents. I come in for my volunteer time in the middle of the day and am always amazed at how well the group of monitors get the kids from lunch to recess and back to class so smoothly.
Assist the Teachers
If you have a kid in elementary school you know all too well how much pressure teachers are under with all of the educational requirements and standardized testing. In fact, at a recent conference my daughter’s third grade teacher was telling me about how they have little time to focus on basics, like writing and spelling skills, due to all of the specified items they have to cover. This is where classroom helpers are becoming ever more important. Assistants used to be tasked with menial duties like sorting papers, but today they are an integral part of the education process. Checking papers, reviewing spelling or math, and leading reading groups are what we are seeing now. If you’re looking to make an impact on the educational quality in your school, this is the way to go. While checking papers or helping students practice skills, you are a second set of eyes and ears for the teacher and can alert them when a child is having difficulty or needs to be challenged more in a particular skill or topic. Volunteer time for teacher assistants is flexible from every day to a few hours per week depending on school needs.
Keep the Library Running Smoothly
At the elementary level, the library is an important part of the school. From early reading skills in kindergarten to working on group projects in fifth grade, the library provides a key tool for teachers. We also see the role of the librarian increasing from just maintaining the collection and teaching research skills to now filling the role as digital literacy teacher. This has stretched the time requirements of school librarians and the need for assistants has grown. This is where I found my calling as a volunteer. Having a Master’s in Library Science, it was a natural fit for me and I really enjoy taking care of some class time in the library and keeping everything organized on the shelves. Having me there also means the librarian can schedule a class while she takes her lunch break and can focus more time on teaching in the computer lab. The needs of each school vary depending on staff size and budget, so you may find particular jobs like working in the library, gym, or other special services that fit your skill set.
Volunteer for Single Events
Many households have parents who both work full time and it can be difficult to find any extra time to devote to the school. There are still some opportunities to get involved in after school or special events though. Extra hands are always needed for running book fairs and concerts, chaperoning field trips, or running events for field days. Watch for requests in newsletters or just ask at the office if they need somebody to give a bit of time to make sure an event runs smoothly. There’s always some special event or after school activity going on that teachers and staff can’t cover by themselves.
Now that you know about many of the volunteer opportunities at your child’s elementary school, what role can you fill? It not only helps the school staff, but more importantly, helps the students and can even bring you a bit closer to your own child. I highly encourage you to sign up for at least one little event to get your foot in the door and get to know the teachers, staff, and other parents better. So, what are you going to volunteer for or are you already involved? Leave a note in the comments and share your experience.