Have you ever felt overwhelmed by copies, projects, and the never-ending to do list? This is a normal feeling for educators across the country. The solution to this feeling of helplessness lies in our very own schoolyards: parents! Parents give freely from their heart on a daily basis and want to be an asset to your school community. All you have to do is ask.
The Parent Center
Parents are an integral part of any school community. Kathleen Decker, our principal at Walter Bracken STEAM Academy Elementary School, lives by the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child and build a school. Fostering partnerships with parents, graduates, and community members is an integral part of our learning community. It provides a culture of learning and giving back when you see so many facets of your school community coming together to make each and every day special.
We've heard over and over again that teachers, who are encouraged to utilize parent volunteers, are sometimes at a loss for what to do with that volunteer once he or she is in the classroom. Many first-year teachers are already struggling with their day-to-day responsibilities, and to throw in another body that they're responsible for teaching and monitoring can be overwhelming. It's the same from the parent's point of view. Many parents would love to dedicate their time to assisting an already overworked teacher, but sometimes they may feel more in the way than helpful. This is where a room specifically dedicated to parents can be beneficial -- and a much better resource -- for the entire school. This is where a parent center comes into play, building a partnership between the parent and school.
These partnerships help facilitate many essential tasks that teachers would otherwise spend their evenings and weekends completing. At Bracken, we've created a parent center within our library, an area that includes a kitchen table, coffee maker, and microwave -- and this is where teachers leave their projects and copies that they need completed. We want our parent center to be parents' home away from home, a space where they'll feel comfortable doing work that can help the teachers. On any given day, you can walk by the parent center and see parents working together to help complete these essential tasks.
An interesting dynamic of partnership and friendship develops among the parents. This friendship entices them to come back regularly. The parent center also serves as a resource and outlet for parents who want to become more involved in their child's education. Many times, parents can be intimidated by the word "volunteer" or simply don't know what a school's expectation is for parent helpers. The parent center solves all of these problems by giving them a safe space to be involved in their child's education while still being part of the school community and culture.
Volunteers and Watch D.O.G.S.
In order to welcome parents into our culture, we created a paid position called the Parent Volunteer Coordinator. He or she reaches out to the community for support through greeting parents on campus and encouraging them to volunteer. The coordinator is already part of the community. This person can be a mother, father, or grandparent. We find him or her among the parents that we see talking each day after their students are already settled in their classrooms learning. The coordinator's role is social butterfly, salesperson, and friend -- with the job of getting the support that our school needs. The Parent Volunteer Coordinator works closely with administration, teachers, and parents to create a culture of cooperation, support, and community.
In addition to our volunteer center, we participate in a national program called Watch D.O.G.S. It stands for Dads of Great Students. Our counselor and parent volunteer coordinator host a kickoff at the beginning of the year to obtain father support. The dads are visible role models that volunteer in the classroom, at lunch, and walking the campus for safety. Fathers on campus are seen as a valuable asset and an opportunity to build relationships. This opportunity allows working fathers to take an active role in their child's school community. Students enjoy school and are motivated to do well when they see their dad involved at school. This also provides a great outlet and opportunity for fathers who would be a bit hesitant to participate in other ways like the parent center, which we find is predominantly staffed by mothers.
Creating a climate of parent volunteers is not as easy as simply asking them to be there. Parents need a purpose and understanding of their role within the school building. This is where programs like the Parent Volunteer Center and Watch D.O.G.S. can play an integral part in enhancing your school culture and building positive relations with all stake holders. As an administrator, I love walking my parents over to the Parent Volunteer Center or to our counselor to explain the Watch D.O.G.S. program -- especially after we've just finished a parent conference!