Connecting in the Classroom
Volunteering at school is a great way to learn more about your child's school experience.
From chaperoning class trips to chairing school fundraisers, there are many ways for parents to get involved with their child’s class.
While the amount of parental involvement varies by school and by grade, most teachers and administrators encourage participation. And kids like it, too. Karen Bantuveris, founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot, says, “Kids (under 12 years) love seeing their parents at school. When parents help out, they are sending a clear message to their kids that education is important in their family. Parents also have the opportunity to build a strong rapport with the teacher and get a pulse on their child’s social circles and behavior.”
Class Parent and Beyond
Most classes have a few “class parents,” who organize activities such as holiday parties and gather chaperones for class trips. In most schools, one of the primary responsibilities of these individuals is to encourage all of the parents to be involved. Inform the class parents if you are interested in attending or organizing activities. If they are not inclusive, approach the teacher directly about volunteer opportunities. “Let your child’s teacher know how often you are available to help and what you like to do,” Bantuveris suggests. “The teacher will most likely find an opportunity that fits the parent’s interest and schedule.” Have a special skill? Sharon Jones, a second-grade teacher in Millburn, says, “I have always welcomed special parent presentations when offered—everything from dental care to elevator/escalator safety.”
Lunch and Other Opportunities
At every school there seem to be some volunteer opportunities that are more popular than others. For example, there may be an abundance of parents who want to go on field trips but are less inclined to help out with a fundraiser. Unless your schedule is truly inflexible, it is best not to get fixated on one opportunity, and instead be open to helping out as needed.
Admittedly, helping out at the PTO-run lunch program is not the most fun job, but it is necessary for the program to run efficiently. My son always gets a kick out of seeing me at school, and it is a good way to observe him with his peers.
Many PTOs have a listing of the various committees and programs that need volunteers. Don’t overextend—be realistic about time commitments. Some volunteer assignments are for a few hours, while others require meetings throughout the year. Try to be someone other volunteers can rely on, and don’t cancel last minute unless it is a true emergency.
When volunteering, parents need to be sure to adhere to the classroom/school rules—and to the teacher’s schedule. “Parents need to be flexible,” says Jen Reilly, a kindergarten teacher from Summit. “The teacher is trying to fit in many things throughout the day, and when she asks for volunteers at a particular time, please try to accommodate her, arrive on time, and leave promptly when the event
While it is exciting to interact with your child at school, it is important to remember that parent volunteers are there to help the teacher and all the children. Jen Slocum, a kindergarten teacher from Summit, says, “Sometimes, parents may overstep and allow one child to have an additional treat when the children are only supposed to have one per student. Situations like this put the teacher in a tough position.” Parents should never discipline a student; they should alert the teacher of any behavioral issues. Parents need to be respectful and keep all student information (such as allergies, teacher’s notes, etc.) confidential.
Most important: Have fun and be present. Silence cell phones, and engage with the students. Bantuveris says, “Studies show that school communities with active and engaged parents produce more successful students. Parent involvement builds commitment to the school, improves participation in school fundraisers, and grows a stronger support for education outside the walls of the campus.”
Randi Mazzella, a mother of three, is a freelance writer from Short Hills.