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A Model School Volunteer


Q. I'm retired, and I'd really like to get involved and help our public schools, especially disadvantaged children. But I don't have a lot of money or time. What could I do to make a difference?


Poet Noah Barker wrote that the most important thing in life is "to soften the weight of Adversity's touch on the faded cheek of my fellow man." There may be no more accurate measurement of character, than the urge to help others. That's what you want to do, and that's what so many kids in so many schools really need today. So bravo! Wish there were more like you.


Because so many parents are working these days, volunteer help from nonparents, including retirees, can make a crucial difference in the culture of a school. A small contribution, such as 20 minutes a week reading to a group of children, would be a tremendous boost to that teacher and children with a strong ripple effect to their families, sending the message that the community cares.


Just pick up the phone and call the principal of a school - maybe one in the inner city, or an isolated rural area where you know there are many low-income children -- and offer yourself as a volunteer for a specific amount of time, whatever they might need you to do. Talk about making that principal's day! What a wonderful gesture that will be, and what a fulfilling and enjoyable experience you will have.


Because of safety and security concerns, of course, you will have to fill out an application and undergo some form of a background check.


Most schools require volunteers to report to the office to sign in and out, and wear an ID badge.


Your service may be coordinated by a school staffer or by the existing parent-teacher organization. You may undergo some amount of training or be given a manual with guidelines and a code of ethics to clarify their expectations of you, and vice versa.


Remember, the responsibility for the actual instruction and programming belongs to the paid staff, and you cannot supercede it or undermine it in any way. Staff is responsible for the instruction and supervision of students, and anything you might do is solely at their discretion and direction. That means you probably shouldn't be grading or evaluating student work, and you shouldn't directly discipline or reprimand students. School staff will no doubt work with you to make sure everything goes well.


Here are the characteristics of a good school volunteer:




         respects authority


         adheres to confidentiality






         neat appearance


Homework: See this handout posted online by the Washington State PTA, Seven Steps to a Successful Volunteer Program.


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 26 2008


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