How to encourage volunteers into schools
Whether their kids are in kindergarten or high school seniors, parents, caregivers and community members have many good reasons to volunteer at school.
What Are the Benefits of Getting Involved?
Getting involved is a great way to show children that you take an interest in their education. It also sends a positive message that you consider school a worthwhile cause.
Many schools now must raise their own funds for activities and supplies that once were considered basic necessities. Parent and community volunteers are essential to organising and chaperoning these fundraising events and other school activities. The P and C of any school plays a vital role in raising these funds for their schools and also lifting the profile of the school.
Parent, guardian and community volunteers offer a huge resource and support base for the school community. They also show children the importance of participating in the larger community.
Working with teachers, administrators, and other parents will help them to understand daily activities. Volunteers will also tap into trends and fads of school life that can help to communicate with your children as they grow and change — all without intruding on their privacy or personal space.
Some parents get "volunteer burnout" by the time their kids enter high school or decide that the schools don't need them as much then. Many parents who volunteered a lot of time during their kids' elementary years return to full-time careers by the time their kids are teens, so there's often a shortage in the secondary schools.
How to Get Started?
One of the best starting points for getting involved is a parent–teacher conference or open house. These are usually scheduled early in each school year. They're a great opportunity to talk to teachers or the principal about volunteer involvement.
If someone has something to offer or just wants to help out in whatever way they can, talk about it with teachers. They might arrange something with the volunteer personally or direct them to a department head or administrator who can answer your questions and make suggestions.
Here are some of the ways a volunteer can help:
- act as a classroom helper
- mentor or tutor students
- help children with special needs
- volunteer in a school computer lab
- help organise, cater, or work at fundraising activities such as cake sales or car washes
- help to plan and chaperone field trips, , and other events that take place away from the school
- help to plan and chaperone in-school events (dances and graduation ceremonies etc)
- organise or assist with a specific club or interest group (if a volunteer has an interest in an activity that isn't currently available to students, offer to help get a group started — for example, a chess club or cycling team)
- work as a library assistant or offer to help with story time or reading assistance in the school library
- sew costumes or build sets for theatrical and musical productions
- help out with visual arts, crafts, and design courses and projects
Remember that not everyone is suited for the same type of involvement. You may have to "try on" a few activities before you find something that feels right for each volunteer. Class teachers are a great reference point for ideas...they always have plenty of things that need doing eg covering books, sharpening pencils, fixing books, changing readers......the classroom is a very busy place.
Questions to Ask
How much time can each volunteer give each week or fortnight?
Be sure to ask your school executive if any financial costs are involved with volunteer activities. If volunteers are chaperoning a field trip, for example, find out if the school will pay for transportation and admissions costs. Ask if they will transport students in your own vehicle or ride with them on a school bus. (It is essential that each volunteer has full insurance and car seats in order to privately transport students)
If you organise or are asking volunteers to help out with an activity that takes place off the school grounds, find out if there are any specific school regulations they will need to keep in mind or any liability issues to be considered.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when signing volunteers:
- Be clear about how much time they are willing to volunteer.
Make sure that you don’t ask volunteers to do more than they feel comfortable with — but try to say it early enough so that there is no confusion. Many trips and activities can't happen unless the school has enough chaperones or supervisors.
- Get feedback from the teachers and students.
Find out what's most and least helpful to ask what you can do to make the most of the time volunteers can spend on school activities. It's important to communicate openly with teachers, administrators, students, and volunteers. Be flexible and responsive as the needs of the students, volunteers and the school change.
Remember that volunteering not only benefits the children in your care. It helps the classroom, the whole school, and the community by giving students positive interaction, support, and encouragement.