Setting up and maintaining a strong volunteer or mentor program is not an easy task. But most principals who take time to recognize the immediate and countless benefits of establishing volunteer programs feel the extra effort is well worth it.
As the number of families with school-age children continues to decline, the needs of our schools and our students continue to increase. Meeting those needs by using unpaid personnel -- volunteers -- is an approach that is working well in many, many schools.
Of course setting up and maintaining a strong volunteer or mentor program is not an easy task. It is an even bigger challenge today than in the past because of security concerns. Background checks, and the costs associated with them, were not an issue a handful of years ago. But most principals who take time to recognize the immediate and countless benefits of establishing volunteer programs feel the extra effort is well worth it.
Volunteer programs that are carefully designed are the ones that will succeed. Those programs are the ones that offer orientation sessions in which goals, expectations, and procedures are carefully explained to participants. Successful volunteer programs also include thoughtful evaluations completed by everyone involved: the volunteers, teachers, support personnel, and administrators.
[content block] One of the most effective techniques I have used to recruit volunteers is also one of the simplest: a request posted early in the school year in your principal-to-home newsletter. In addition to seeking parents' time, assistance, and creativity, you might encourage parents to ask if any of their neighbors who don't have school-age students might be willing to spend time and share their talents. My newsletter announcement always included an invitation to attend a session at the school. There, we shared information about our program and our wishes and expectations for it. After the presentation, we invited prospective volunteers to ask questions and enjoy some refreshments provided by the parent-teacher organization. Those who were interested in being part of the program were able to complete paperwork on the spot -- district-required paperwork as well as a questionnaire we designed to yield information about the volunteer's interests, skills, and availability.
In all my years as principal in a number of different schools, one of the best volunteer incentives I saw was offering a free lunch. Perhaps your school's parent organization would be willing to pick up the cost of feeding volunteers who spend at least four hours of a day in your school. When I was able to offer that incentive, it piqued the interest of many volunteers, particularly some seniors for whom that meal saved the time and expense of cooking a "big meal of the day." Some of those volunteers even enjoyed their meal with the kids as they formed friendships with them.
Chances are the families in your school are super busy. How could they possibly fit one more responsibility into their hectic days? The following ideas offer some suggestions for ways in which almost any parent might be able to volunteer some time in their child's school.
While most volunteers and mentors don't get involved for recognition, a wise principal makes sure they take time to recognize volunteers' and mentors' efforts. They might do that by planning an appreciation event at the school, sharing articles about volunteer contributions in the school's newsletter, making sure teachers and students send thank you notes to volunteers, and by involving the most experienced volunteers and mentors in training sessions in subsequent years.
Volunteers and mentors are huge assets to any school. They can become a school or school system's strongest allies. They can also serve as spokespersons for your school in other areas of the community. As word spreads about the great things happening in your school, you will likely have the volunteers to thank.
Be sure to see other columns by George Pawlas in his article archive.
Article by George Pawlas
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