By: NobleHour Special Contributor Latasha Doyle
According to recent numbers, there are about 55 million students enrolled in K-12 public and private schools across the United States. With only about 131,000 schools and 3.5 million teachers, it’s easy to see why educational resources are stretched so thin. In the best case scenario, that’s about 425 students per school and about 16 students per teacher, but many schools throughout the country are dealing with overcrowding and limited resources. Add in massive, across-the-board budget cuts, these schools often don’t have the staff or administrative help they need. But that doesn’t mean they can provide fewer services for students. In fact, schools are expected to operate at previous levels, even with less funding and increased student enrollment.
With a growing need for top-notch education and support for both public and private teaching staff, more and more schools are looking to their communities and the families who are enrolled for assistance. While parents have always filled a few gaps for teachers and administrations, it seems today, parent volunteerism is becoming a necessity.
The Role of Parent Volunteers
Private and public schools alike have a unique dynamic between the administration, parents, and students. While many schools don’t actively demand parents volunteer, it is almost an unspoken agreement: schools need parents to be engaged in their students’ education.
Depending on the size of the school, there may be more of a need for parents to be involved in classrooms or even in administrative offices to support the staff. Many schools have Parent-Teacher Associations, create specific parent volunteering roles, and schedule various functions for parents to organize and attend.
But, there is no “one size fits all” approach to parent volunteering in schools. And of course, each school’s needs are different from the next. Often, public schools will just request that parents sign up for volunteer opportunities, while private schools may even require it before accepting a student. No matter how they request involvement, though, there may be a few science-based reasons why parents should volunteer.
Benefits of Parent Engagement in Schools
Parent volunteering can take many forms, from donating time to set up school events to serving as the school’s crossing guard. While the level of parent and student involvement depends on the school itself, it’s nearly ubiquitous in school systems across the country today. Why?
1. Improved education for students
Studies show that parent involvement both in class and in school can improve student learning, as well as overall school standards. According to the Southwest Educational Development Library, students with involved parents are more likely to have:
· Higher grades
· Goals for higher education
· Fewer behavioral struggles
· Better attendance
SchoolFamily.com also finds that students with “highly engaged parents” both in school and out are 30 percent more successful in school (based on GPA, attendance, and test scores).
2. Improved school function
Student standards and test scores are often the biggest marker of a school’s success, but parent volunteers help keep many schools afloat. According to the same study by the Southwest Educational Development Library, engaged parents help:
· Teachers feel less overwhelmed
· Improve the reputation of the school in the community
· Increase school ratings
· Support administrative staff
Many schools have found this to be true, which is why they have parental volunteering as a major cornerstone of their enrollment process.
3. Students understand the importance of education and volunteerism
Seeing parents and communities deeply involved in their education has a major impact on students. In fact, students in a 2002 study were found to have a more positive attitude towards school when they saw their parents volunteering on campus.
Other studies of parent volunteers also find that children are more likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps. By giving time to the school, parents are instilling a sense of civic duty that makes an impact. Students with volunteer parents have more volunteer hours than other children and the odds are higher that these children will grow up to be adult volunteers.
4. Better support for struggling students and families
There are obvious gaps in the U.S. education system, especially in large urban areas with low income. Schools that have higher parent engagement are a huge asset to these areas because they are a source of support for both students and their parents.
With more parents volunteering, one study found that schools could “address obstacles to family and community involvement to realize the benefits associated with family and community involvement.” Essentially, the two go hand-in-hand. Supporting the school ecosystem helps supports families and communities as a whole, and vice-versa.
5. Better enrollment and funding for schools
For many families and parents, the reputation of community and heavy parent involvement in a school is actually a huge reason for enrolling. A sense of community and a close involvement with their children’s education is a highly motivating factor.
If you’re a school administrator or parent who has seen the benefits of parent volunteering in action, now is a great time to start asking more volunteers to sign up. With the 2017-2018 school season upon us, there are a number of ways to convince parents to start volunteering.
How Can Schools Encourage Parent Engagement
For many schools in the U.S., volunteerism is encouraged in both students and parents. For students, it’s a great way to build up their school applications and to cultivate future job interests. For parents, it’s a great way to stay on top of what’s happening in their kids’ lives. But for some schools, volunteer programs feel forced and lack the general momentum it takes to create a strong system of volunteers. Your school can start encouraging parent volunteerism by:
1. Letting teachers ask parents for help
Teachers are the most involved in the daily work of their students, but they are constantly printing, cutting, and organizing the day’s lessons. If teachers feel like they can ask for help from parents, your school will likely see an increase in involved parents. Simple tasks like printing worksheets or stapling papers takes a lot off the teacher’s plate and is an easy way to introduce parents into the classroom.
2. Adding volunteer hours to enrollment paperwork
Whether parents are enrolling their new kindergarteners or sending their children onto the next grade, simply adding “volunteer requests” to enrollment paperwork can break the ice. If parents know that volunteering is something that is needed, they are likely to sign up and start looking for ways to fulfill that need. It also sets up the expectation from the first day of school, making it easier for them to plan for the year ahead.
3. Removing official volunteer roles
Often people associate school volunteers with Parent-Teacher Organizations or other planning committees. When parents think they will have to be involved in the same role all year (or for a huge project), they are less likely to sign up. Instead, provide micro-volunteering opportunities. This could be a day in the classroom, an hour in the office, or a short crosswalk guard session. Parents will feel more competent and less burdened.
One thing that schools and other parent volunteers need to keep in mind is that many parents work full-time. They undoubtedly want to be involved in their students’ education but are simply unable to commit large chunks of time.
Make it easier for them to say “Yes” by providing plenty of opportunities for shorter volunteer roles. Your school will suddenly see more hands on deck than ever before. Then all you’ll need is a way to track them and the projects they’re taking on.
Support for Parent Volunteers
From figuring out the next bake sale to making sure there’s a recess monitor, there’s always something that needs to be tracked or scheduled. Most schools, regardless of size, need someone (or a team of “someones”) to volunteer just to make sense of it all. Of course, this is often the Parent-Teacher Association, but it may fall to designated parents or even administration members. If your school is currently struggling to increase your parent volunteer numbers, you’ve probably come across one big roadblock:
How do we keep track of what needs to be done, who is going to do it, and when or where they’ll get it done?
Volunteer tracking software like NobleHour can offer seamless support for schools and their volunteers. You can set up a community, invite people to your team, and start tracking volunteers. School organizers can even use it to find local volunteer opportunities for students! As an added bonus, it makes volunteer tracking and impact even easier to report, which is helpful for grants, funding, and more.
NobleHour provides a unique opportunity for schools to really engage parents in new ways. This is less time-intensive for the PTA or the administration and also allows parents to feel they’re involved on their terms. Parent volunteering can totally change the way a school functions and has a positive impact on every student's education. All your school needs to do is find a way to create those opportunities and make them accessible for parents.
Wondering how NobleHour can help your school?
Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she's not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.
Photo credit: Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina via Foter.com / CC BY