School volunteers in times of budget crunches

Post by PEN

When school resources decline, and districts slice millions of dollars from their budgets, what options are available to reduce the world of hurt?  Every kid in school right now is potentially threatened by cutbacks.  Every kid in school right now deserves school districts ready to innovate and create a powerful and positive response to this financial crisis.

Kids love the attention

I helped in my grandson’s school this year.  About once a week, I’d spend two hours in his second grade classroom working with the kids on their reading or math, or doing some small chore to make his teacher’s life a little easier.  I let his teacher know by email exactly when I was coming, to give her a heads up.  She was very flexible and accommodating.

This weekly outing made the best two hours of my week.  The kids seemed to love the attention, and I know I did.  I’m unsure if I made an academic difference in their lives, but I do know that the additional focus on them was important.

Volunteers can benefit from some instructional guidance

I was handicapped, though, in not having many tricks of the trade for helping the kids with reading or math difficulties.  If a child was below grade level in reading, I couldn’t help much more than telling him a word or helping him work through the syllables.  I’m not trained in even the basics of reading instruction.

Similarly with math.  If a child couldn’t do a subtraction problem, I was locked into my “old way” of subtracting, using “borrowing,” which is not exactly how math is taught today.  I told the unsuspecting child I was giving him a “shortcut,” but I wasn’t reinforcing current math strategies.

Welcome volunteers, build reliability

I think schools need to take the possibility of parents and other volunteers much more seriously as one option for curing the budget disease.  My home school district has one link on its website for “Volunteers,” which reads – “go to your local school site to volunteer.”  Not exactly welcoming.

Ideally, each school would have a volunteer coordinator, but if that’s not possible, perhaps one in 10 schools can have such a person to assess academic needs, numbers of volunteers necessary to meet the needs, to find volunteers, and provide training on student learning styles and basic instructional techniques.  Perhaps the volunteer  coordinator can be a volunteer  also- a reliable parent or grandparent with time to help.

Websites as volunteer-coaching medium

School districts can use their websites for instructional resources to help parents and volunteers understand new methods and reinforce learning.  A section of the site at the district and school level should be devoted to this effort, with marketing to parents especially as a value-added resource.

Parents and volunteers must agree to a full commitment, perhaps in a “contract form” so teachers and schools can rely on them. If a district puts in training and coordinating resources, the volunteers must resolve to do their part regularly.

Clearly, this concept is not a complete solution, but it can help schools in bad times – and good times.  Let us hear from schools who have successfully extended their open arms to encourage volunteering – what works and what doesn’t.

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