Monday, January 9, 2017

Parenthood: Week 186 - Parent Volunteer

My mom was always around as a parent volunteer when I was in elementary school. She contributed so much that she was awarded the Golden Acorn volunteer award. On one level, I remember being slightly annoyed that she was around all of the time but more than that I was comforted that she was around and proud of the things that she contributed.

Parent volunteering is an essential part of American public schools. Teachers rely on parent volunteers to chaperone field trips, grade papers, teach math groups, supervise recess and lunch, run art projects, set-up classrooms, and many more things. The vast majority of teachers are overworked, do not have enough prep time and are underpaid.  Without these volunteers, basic things that we expect out of an education, like field trips to museums simply would not happen.

Beyond the need for help, parental involvement helps create school community. When a school opens up its doors to parent, it creates trust and when parents come into schools it expresses a value in the teachers work.

My mom didn't work full-time so she had the ability to come in an volunteer. Unfortunately, since I'm a full time teachers, my ability to be a parent volunteer is much more limited. This makes me sad. I want to be around for  Ollie and watch him grow, and there is a lot of time when we are apart.  I'm comforted knowing he's having awesome experiences at school and of course I'd rather have Ollie have these experiences without me than not at all.

So I was really excited when the fact that Ollie and I had different winter breaks this year (which was unusual and not ideal) meant that I could come in as a parent volunteer.  I have come into Ollie's class to do some music activities, but this was different. I wasn't a special guest leading a unique activity; I was plugging into an existing art project and helping the class.

The project was gingerbread houses. So along with a group of parents, I created graham cracker gingerbread houses built around little cereal boxes. We used frosting as glue and then the kids would get to decorate them.

As we were working some students were coming in and out of the classroom for various reasons. When they saw what we were doing, they immediately got excited. One of these kids was Ollie. His face lit up and he ran towards me with incredible excitement. I’m not sure how much of that was for me and how much of his joy was for the candy.

We spent about an hour making the houses, and then we went in the room and helped the kids decorate the houses. Afterwards, we helped clean up and said our goodbyes to our kids.  The work wasn't hard but I saw how the extra people was essential in making this project happen.

It was a wonderful experience. I loved talking to other parents, being a cog in a wheel of the project and assisting the classroom. It fascinating to watch the other kids work in the classroom and it was really special to see Ollie in the middle of the day.

My mom's volunteering benefited me and my school in so many different ways.  Now I see that one of the results of her work is inspiring me to do the same for my boy.  No, I can't be at Ollie's school as much as my mom, but I can share in the joy she felt giving to my school in the moments when I'm volunteering at Ollie's school.

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