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Volunteer at Your Local School

Liz Dwyer

Want to transform public schools in your community? Sure, they need strong leadership and awesome teachers, but they also need community involvement. Go knock on the door of your local school, find out what they need, and help 'em out.

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  • Aldo Puicon

    Here are some of moments from when I volunteered for 826LA's ELL Camp @ Mark Twain Junior High School in Venice, CA! The kids had to design a community project from start to finish and my group of kids decided to create a recycling campaign. It was definitely a lot of fun, but boy am I glad my middle school days are far, far behind me :)

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      This is so cool. I created a workshop at 826 LA! It was called Drawing Narrative from Art and Art from Narrative. Kids created stories based on art I brought in from well known street artists and photographers, then they made art based on the stories they created.

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Some more pics from it. I think the first workshop I did was most successful because I laid out large pieces of paper and cleared the space so that the kids could play around with the materials.

  • Jeanne Kays

    I've been volunteering in the public schools since the eldest of my two daughters started Kindergarten. At the time, I held a full-time job and volunteered an hour a week to help with anything from library check-out help to math tutoring and science lab assistance. My children were fortunate to have some really wonderful teachers who really knew their craft--and I got to witness that firsthand by being in the classroom. Our elementary and middle schools welcomed and appreciated parent and grandparent volunteers--and that attitude helped create a really positive learning environment for the students. Just last year, at my youngest daughter's middle school, a student walked up to me and said that she'd seen me on campus and had wanted to say hello--she remembered me from when I volunteered in her 4th-grade science class, and gave me a big hug. It's amazing how investing even a small portion of your time can make such a big difference. It's a win-win situation.

  • joansmyth

    I gave two days a month last year and have figured out a way to give a day a week to the library in my son's school. The more we can get kids to read, the more successful they will be in school and in life.

  • Timothy Mclaughlin

    I volunteer at my daughters school last school year. They are 9 and 6 one was in kinder and one was in 3rd grade. I was a greeter weekly in addition to specail activities. It really made me feel as though I was doing my part. I was assigned to sit at a greeting desk at the front door nearby to office. I wore a name tag with my name and the word greeter. My duties included signing in late kids, taking items to classrooms that parents would bring such as forgotten school work. If parenst needed to pass my desk they needed a name tag and they had to sign in. The thing that surprised me was some parents seemed offended. It was like how dare I sake them what they needed. Some parents still think that they can just walk into the school and go where they want. Most were gracious after I explained the rules, but some continued to disregard the rules and try to walk in and go where they wanted. I would like to put it out there, if you encounter a volunteer be respectful we are there for the safety of your child as well as our own.

  • Shelley Luce

    My daughter's school has great parent participation and it really makes the school and her experience so much better. I volunteer in class, which at kindergarten and 1st grade in a crowded classroom, makes a big difference. It also means I get to know all the kids by name and know the teacher better as well - I love it.

  • sbertucc

    You might sow your transformative seed by bringing a bunch of flowers or potted plants when you first stop by and get "buzzed in" to your neighborhood public school.
    If you don't have a routine time-slot to mentor, take on an ongoing task like gardening, cleaning or copying, why not stop in with fresh flowers for the office counter or classroom-a-week? Students of all ages respond to living beauty in their environment with caring and, well, sweetness. You could be an elixir for sweetness on a weekly basis!

    • Liz Dwyer

      I love this idea! I recently told someone to take donuts but this is MUCH healthier!

  • sandje03

    One of my favorite ways to support schools: http://mygreenapple.org/
    Sat. September 28th - An international day of service to support various schools efforts to become more sustainable.

    • Liz Dwyer

      Hey Sandje03, you can post this as something to "do" on the site--just click it on the yellow "post" button and then choose something to do, put in the URL, write a little title and description. Send it to me liz at goodinc dot com when you do and I'll put it on our list of things to tweet out! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reginalt .R. kipkemei

    Have volunteered for the last 3 years on peace building & conflict management but it needs funds for traveling,snacks and drinks for participants.

    • Liz Dwyer

      That is wonderful, Reginalt. Have you tried crowdfunding for the traveling, snacks, and drinks? Also, I wonder if there might be a local small business that might want to pitch in.

      • Reginalt .R. kipkemei

        In Kenya no funds but we volunteer,that is why our country is peaceful.Am champion for peace in Embakasi district,having 60 people doing peace work together.

    • Liz Dwyer

      We need this down here in Los Angeles! Actually, a whole lot of places need this. One of the big questions I've had from folks is how do you even find a school--it's intimidating if you haven't been involved in one. Thanks for sharing.

  • sandje03

    One of my favorite ways to support schools: http://mygreenapple.org/
    This international day of service is to take place on Saturday, 9/28, in support of schools in their efforts to become more sustainable. Check it out!

  • Howard Freeman

    In NYC, what many schools need most is cash gifts to the school's Parent-Teacher Association (PTA, or PA). Due to budget cuts at public schools, programs like Spanish, music and chess, and staffing like assistant teachers (often needed in classrooms with 25+ kids) are funded through PTAs.

    "Volunteering" is great, but they need cash or sponsorships, or usually one-of-a-kind items that they can sell at yearly auctions. Our kids' schools has to raise $500k per year just to provide what many schools consider standard offerings. And we're a wealthy area! Schools in poorer neighborhoods need the cash and help all the more.

    Alternatively, offer a school principal a way to provide chess, music or other after-school program (karate? origami?...) through official channels.

    • Timothy Mclaughlin

      Wow some things never amaze me. I guess it is the fact I am not informed. I don't understand why a "wealthy" area needs additional funding for school activities?

  • Cexochitl Delatorre

    I volunteer at the middle school where I teach all the time, but I hope to get involved with my children's elementary school this year as well! Thanks for the motivation!

  • gojostl

    Not to discourage going up and knocking--which may work, but there are some systematic ways to get involved as a volunteer in local schools. 1) Approach someone at the district level designated as Director of Community Relations (that's the position in our district) or something similar; 2) Join a Kiwanis Club which has already has great sponsored programs in schools (K-Kids www.kkids.org , Builders Club www.buildersclub.org , Key Club www,keyclub.org ); 3) Explore if Junior Achievement has a program in your district ( www.ja.org ) .

    If your district's leadership is as over-worked as most, they will have a harder time dealing with you on an individual basis, than if you are a part of a more organized effort, such as one of the above. Outside of the time I spend with my own children, my time as the Club Advisor of a local K-Kids Club is the best time I spend each week.

    • Timothy Mclaughlin

      Great advice these days just walking in and asking to volunteer may not be the best way to approach volunteering. Of course if it is your child's school it might go over better.

  • dmdnice

    I am starting a female mentoring group at a local middle school. I substitute there and I have contacted the council member, school board member and county executive and let them know about my initiative. I also asked them for funding, snacks, and supplies. I will keep you all posted.

  • Annalee Shelton

    Love this! I volunteer at Valor Academy in Los Angeles. Working with the kids there makes me realize our next generation has the talent to solve our big persistent problems, and we have to give them a good educational foundation to stand on.

  • Susie Wyshak

    Discovered Writer Coach Connection which is awesome if you like writing and coaching kids. You'll be amazed by their talents and fulfilled as you help them along. The commitment has been pretty minimal but I feel like I'm making a difference. (I did think of Stand & Deliver immediately when I saw the topic!) http://www.writercoachconnection.org/

  • Max Schorr

    Intrigued. Will plan to report back what happens. Definitely a fan of communities being involved in schools. Interested to see how they handle the offer, and if there is an option that works with my life.

  • Casey Caplowe

    Is that really how to do it? Just go knock on their door? I guess that doesn't seem that crazy. Who do you typically ask to talk to?

    • Liz Dwyer

      The other thing about meeting with the principal is she can let you know the process for getting fingerprinted/background checked, and if it's necessary depending on the amount of time you want to spend volunteering every month.

    • Liz Dwyer

      Yup. It really is that simple. Just go knock on the door, go to the school office, tell them you're interested in volunteering and would love to set up a meeting with the principal to find out how you can be of service to them. And then in that meeting, you can find out what the principal really needs--do they need someone to staff the library once a week, or do they want someone to come teach coding to kids at lunch or after school? Do they need someone to answer phones in the office from 8-9 AM, or do they need someone to help kids learn their letters? And of course, when you tell them what you know how to do, sometimes that gives them new ideas--I know a guy who's really into ultimate frisbee and he started a club at his neighborhood school even though he doesn't even have kids.

      • Ben Goldhirsh

        I'm in. Though I stopped at Fairfax high last year, gave them my name, asked to volunteer, and they told me to buzz off. My bad for not being more persistent. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

      • writerkate

        I'd like to read stories, if they still do that. The thing is, a lot of people want to do that, and it's considered ho-hum. It shouldn't be and doesn't have to be! Reading aloud is an *art*, and that's how it should be done for kids. Catch them in the story, and encourage them to let their imaginations run with it. I believe THAT will help get kids enthusiastic about reading.

        Unfortunately, I know some districts are cutting back on "outside" programs so they can teach the test a few extra minutes a month. But there's a new administration in the local district, so perhaps I should try again.

          • writerkate

            Thanks, Annalee, but I'm five miles outside a small town in Arizona. A *lot* of cutbacks in the schools, which is so incredibly shortsighted... but I know I'm preaching to the choir on that one. But I hope readers in L.A. check it out!

            • ashleighb

              It's not directly associated to schools, but Reach Out & Read is an organization that promotes reading and books for children starting when they're infants. It ties into doctors visits, and some clinics have volunteers read in the waiting rooms.

              • writerkate

                Thanks! I'll check into that. Reading to babies and toddlers is especially fun, and most babies seem to find my face friendly. Or at least amusing. :)

            • Annalee Shelton

              Amen! Hopefully that trend will turn. Can't wait to hear what projects you find in AZ.