Rethinking the school volunteer


Volunteerism can, often, seem like a patchwork practice: people showing up from different communities, backgrounds, and financial situations to lend their time for a cause or purpose. Passion leads to involvement, and this is certainly on display with political campaigns, environmental movements, and religious organizations. The human desire to improve and perfect certainly drives us to participation, and if it weren’t for our passions, where would we be?

But there are also people that question the merits of volunteering, or the practical application within a given organization. Whether it is a negative experience or a feeling that contributions are not sufficient for the time involved, many people avoid volunteer opportunities. Indeed, some volunteer groups can act as social organizations where people show up to talk and hang out more than they participate. There are even those individuals, undoubtedly, that volunteer so they can extend their misguided needs to be in charge of yet another organization (and who is going to turn down a volunteer?). But these points are simple illustrations of a larger picture: volunteerism is yet another example of the interconnected circles that link our worlds. They are the rings that connect family life with business life, free time with community time.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, nearly 40% of volunteers in Texas spend their time volunteering for a religious organization, while only 25% volunteer for an educational institution. This may be in large part due to 88% of respondents in the national surveys having a “somewhat” or “high” degree of confidence in public schools. A high degree of confidence in schools could certainly lead people to think their time could be better spent elsewhere, but it is also intuitive that most school volunteers have a vested interest in the educational institutions where they volunteer. Of course, most of these individuals currently have children attending schools.

Americans are constantly talking about education in this country, and a lot of the comments and statistics that are floated in the media are about our nation’s failure to provide the kind of education our future leaders, parents, and citizens will need. Currently, a lot of school volunteering revolves around raising money and lifting the burden of school-related activities that would require paid personnel if volunteers were absent. But are parents participating too heavily on the social aspects of school volunteering? And would the conversation on education be less heated if more people were involved?

From a 2012 economic news release published by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, less than 10% of volunteers surveyed classified their main volunteer capacity as “Tutor,” while nearly 22 percent classified their positions as “Food Service” or “Fundraising.” Twice as many people are involved with fundraising and food service than the practice of educating. Furthermore, a 2012 National Household Education Survey, coordinated by the National Center for Education Statistics, revealed that 80% of parents, at one time or another, volunteered at their children’s school, and yet only 67% of students had a parent check their homework when they got home.

Increasing the number of people directly involved with the organization or instruction of curricula would certainly help a wide swath of parents, teachers, and administrators come closer together on what our kids should be learning, and having more parents involved in academics would give them the opportunity to relay the importance of learning to their children both at school and at home.

Through better organization, institutions should be able to more readily quantify results from volunteer hours and efforts. Neill Ray, creator of The School Volunteer (a software program designed to organize volunteer efforts at schools), saw a need for more a more efficient volunteer management system when he was asked to head volunteering efforts for one of his children’s schools. According to Neill, parents volunteer for a number of reasons – to ease the difficulty associated with sending a child off to school for the first time; to build friendships with other parents facing the challenges of parenthood; to offer support for the educational institution their children are attending – but the most important objective is to keep the parents engaged with the students.

Subsequently, parental engagement must lead directly to a greater importance placed upon school work. Face time is not always sufficient in our efforts to accomplish tasks and goals. In a lot of circumstances, we could spend less time doing something if we streamlined the process and focused more on the core issues involved. In the exact same way a non-profit finds the right volunteers for the right jobs at the right times, we need to make sure we are dividing our own resources and time among those priorities that matter most at school and at home. Maybe that is homework, but it might also be a parent and a child volunteering together for a good, passionate cause in the city. We are the examples for our children, and a drive and desire to make a change should be shown through civic involvement, intellectual curiosity, and the desire to improve and connect.



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