The School Volunteer Jobs That Most Help Your Kids · By SUE SHELLENBARGER
Rosa Rivera receives so many invitations to volunteer at her children's school and other activities that the dozens of daily emails and calls about various projects can be "just overwhelming," says the mother of two.
At her children's stage, ages 7 and 9, her top priority is to take the projects that will help them most in school and life, says Ms. Rivera, Austin, Texas. But it can be hard to figure out which projects those are. "You're pulled and stretched in so many directions, now more than ever," she says. Cash-strapped schools are leaning hard on parents for help this fall. Some 53% of parents plan to volunteer at their children's schools, up from 44% last year, says a poll of 1,086 parents by Harris Interactive and GreatSchools, a nonprofit parent-involvement group. The re-opening of schools this fall has triggered a 50% increase in volunteer signups at VolunteerSpot.com, a Web site for organizing volunteers, to 75,000 from 50,000 last summer, says Karen Bantuveris, VolunteerSpot founder.
Rosa Rivera prepares snacks for her daughter's Girl Scout troop, one of her many volunteer duties.
To help your child in school, pick volunteer stints that enable you to:
· Learn about classes and curriculum. · Build relationships with teachers and staff. · Show the value you place on education. · Learn how problems at school are resolved. Source: WSJ reporting
Sometimes, of course, it is best to volunteer where a school needs you most. And most school volunteer projects have worthy goals. Fundraisers keep alive arts, sports or music programs. Helping out in the school office fills staffing gaps. Painting classrooms improves kids' environment. Serving on the school board helps shape schools' strategy and direction. But for parents with limited time and energy, which roles deliver the biggest benefit for your kids? And how does the answer to that question change as a student grows up? Here's what research and experts say: Elementary School: Volunteer where your child can see you. Small children usually love seeing their parents in the classroom. "The idea that 'My parent is at school, my parent cares about me,' is so valuable," says Kathy Hoover-Dempsey, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University. Parent volunteers can get to know teachers, share information, see what happens in the classroom and reinforce those lessons at home. Volunteering one step removed from the classroom, in the library or office, holds less direct benefits. But that kind of volunteering does still have an upside: From a child's perspective, Dr. Hoover-Dempsey says, "the parent is affirming that a) you're really important to me; b) that what goes on in school is important; and c) I get to see things we can talk about later." Volunteering on the school board or as a PTO or PTA officer, while helpful to the school, also has more indirect benefits. For small children, Dr. Hoover-Dempsey says, such activities are "going to be out-of-sight and out-of-mind." But being seen helping around school helps a parent get to know teachers and staff, share information and see how problems are solved. School volunteer work of all kinds has been linked to small improvements in kids' grades and test scores, based on a 2005 survey of 41 studies of 20,000 kindergarten through sixth-grade students by William Jeynes, an education professor at California State University, Long Beach. Scholarly studies generally don't distinguish among specific types of volunteer roles. If you lack time to volunteer, or if you find yourself at the bottom of a long waiting list of wannabe school helpers, don't despair: How you coach your child at home matters far more. Throughout school, the most important parental role of all is to shape your child's attitude toward learning and school, communicate high expectations, and help him or her set goals and solve learning problems.
And setting expectations doesn't mean telling kids, "We are bound and determined that you are going to get into Harvard," Dr. Hoover-Dempsey says; it means sending a message that "doing the best you can is important for all the things you're going to be able to do in life." In elementary school, such coaching has roughly twice as big an impact on children's grades and test scores as volunteering.
Middle School: Volunteer where you can learn the most about the school's curriculum and classes. The landscape tilts for volunteers at this stage. Classrooms close to parents. Volunteer tasks become more remote from the learning process, often relegating parents to running fundraisers. And although teens and pre-teens still want their parents involved, they may be horrified if Mom or Dad appears in the school hallway. Many parent volunteers drop out at this stage. A 2009 survey of 50 studies found volunteering by parents is linked to modest gains in middle schoolers' academic achievement. But research also suggests that volunteering in middle school helps parents fill the all-important coaching role. A 2001 study of 13,580 parents and their children found that children of parents who volunteered in eighth grade and helped with fund raising and parent-teacher groups were more likely to tackle a tough academic program in high school. Middle-school volunteers probably pick up information that helps them guide their children, says the study by Sophia Catsambis, an associate professor of sociology at City University of New York. This is the kind of help kids want at this stage—in picking the right classes and managing big projects, based on focus-group research by Nancy E. Hill, an education professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and co-author of the 50-study survey. It is at this stage that students are often tracked into ability-level classes, especially in science and math, which has a big impact on classes they can later take in high school, Dr. Hill says; thus "having parental advocacy and input is essential." This role—communicating high expectations, encouraging students to set academic goals and make plans, and talking with them about learning strategies—emerges in Dr. Hill's research as the most powerful tool for helping middle-schoolers achieve. High School: Volunteer where your student can see and learn from your example. By this stage, "kids see school as their territory, not parents' territory, and schools reinforce it," Dr. Hoover-Dempsey says. Research shows parent volunteering has little direct impact on high-schoolers' grades. The coaching role is nearly five times more powerful at this stage, based on a 2007 survey of 52 studies. But staying involved fortifies the all-important parent-teen relationship. Running the refreshment stand at the football game shows a student that "what you're doing is worth spending my time on," Dr. Hoover-Dempsey says. It's a way of showing a teen, "I care about you." Parents' example of being engaged in the community also holds great power for teens. Adolescents whose parents are active volunteers are more likely to become volunteers as adults, says JacquelynneEccles, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Michigan. This is one of Ms. Rivera's hopes for her children. While they enjoy seeing her in the classroom now, she plans as they get older to tutor needy children in other schools. "The best way of teaching is by example," she says. "I hope that one day they will be inspired to volunteer themselves." Write to Sue Shellenbarger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. F is a teacher, an avid reader, fond of conversation, and a believer that all children must be empowered to set a course of success in life.
He described one of his summer reads, and I, having lacked such conversation with my own parents, listened attentively. You see, inside I am a young person wanting to learn, and always appreciative of opportunities to do so.
Frederick, a slave, was barely taught to read by one of his mistresses/owner. Her husband stopped such efforts because he feared a slave who could read would be empowered to revolt against his life of servitude. Frederick understood then that he must do exactly what his master did not want him to do. His biggest early feat was to teach himself to read. His life was changed.
Stories of brutality, mistreatment of humans, and the failure of those who can to allow the less powerful to be all they can be always cause pain and revolt in me. I think I will remember Frederick's story and use it as affirmation that all I have taught myself will serve me right.
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.