Search form

Schools Recruit, Recognize Contributions of Volunteers -- Part 2


Is your school crawling with volunteers? Or are you looking for ways to increase opportunities for students by involving more volunteers? If one of those situations describes your school, you're sure to gain some valuable insight from Education World's "Principal Files" principals. Included: The benefits of volunteers, plus tips for recruiting them and recognizing their efforts.


Schools recruit volunteers in many ways. Some get all the volunteer help they need by signing up parents on Open House night. For others, it's not quite that easy. Some school principals must resort to the hard sell and arm-twisting.

"Most of our volunteer recruitment is handled through classroom teachers," said principal Tim Messick. "On Back-to-School Night, teachers put out volunteer sign-up lists with the areas in which they seek assistance or support. If additional areas of need crop up during the school year, each classroom has at least one 'room parent' who has been trained by the school's assistant director to handle many different responsibilities."

At Doctor's Inlet Elementary, principal Larry Davis said, "We are constantly recruiting volunteers. The teacher who oversees our volunteer program reports to one of our committees -- our school's Spirit Team. Each teacher generates a list of volunteer needs. That list is used to solicit volunteers. Sign-up lists are on hand during Open House and parent conferences."

At the start of each year, Doctor's Inlet holds a welcome party for volunteers. At that meeting, policies and procedures in the district's volunteer handbook are reviewed.

"Our school has been awarded the Golden School Award for the last 5 years," added Davis. "The state of Florida gives that honor to schools with outstanding volunteer programs. Volunteers must serve the school with hours that equate to three times the number of students enrolled."


Does your school's volunteer program include a handbook? The resources below might be of value if you are thinking about creating a handbook for your program.

Virginia Beach Schools: Volunteers in Education

Washoe County (Nevada) Volunteer Handbook

Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) Regional School Board: Volunteer Handbook

Pinellas County (Florida) Volunteer Handbook

Volunteer Handbook: School District of Okaloosa County (Florida)

Travis Unified School District Volunteer Handbook

Villa Augustina School Volunteer Handbook

Maria Hastings Elementary School Volunteer Handbook

Since St. Vincent de Paul Academy is a parish school, volunteer needs are published in the church bulletin, said Heather Hamtil. Hamtil interviews all volunteers. "We are grateful for their response and thankful for their time, but we feel it very necessary to make sure our volunteers are a good fit," she said. "If we know the people personally, the interviews are a formality. For those we do not know personally, we do background checks and check references."

"We are blessed to have a parent organization that is very active in all aspects of our school, particularly in getting parents involved in the education of their children," said Jack Noles. Typically, two or three parent coordinators handle calling and scheduling of volunteers. They contact volunteers on a rotating basis so that everyone has an opportunity to participate.

"We have found that involving retired persons in our community is a tremendous benefit to our students as well as the school and district," Noles added. "They are very giving and passionate about the young, and what they say out in the community can carry a great deal of weight."

That involvement has paid off in many ways, said Noles, whose school has been on the receiving end of monetary donations from civic groups that are populated mostly by retired people in his community.

Orchard Hill Elementary benefits from a large volunteer cadre. "We start the year by distributing a district volunteer brochure," explained Bridget Braney. "The brochure lists many opportunities as well the steps for getting involved."

On Open House night at Orchard Hill, teachers typically lay out their requests for help and parents sign up for the classroom activities in which they would like to participate. In addition, the PTO posts its activities with sign-up sheets so parents can volunteer to help out with school-wide functions.


At Harriet Gifford Elementary School, Joe Corcoran has a simple formula for attracting volunteers. "We recruit volunteers at school registration," he said. "We conveniently set up our PTO table right next to the payment line. As parents are waiting in line, our PTO leaders talk to them."

Last year, Corcoran and the PTO tried a unique approach. "We asked each parent to contribute 3 hours of his or her time to the school," he said. "Some did. Some did not -- they volunteered more."

This year, Corcoran has just learned from a colleague about a national PTA program called Three4Me. "Basically, it is a formal version of what we are already doing. One difference is that this national program includes an interesting component for getting dads involved in school. We plan to adopt that part of the program this year."

The PTO also manages the volunteer recruiting effort at St. Martin's School. "A letter is sent home in late spring that spells out our school's volunteer opportunities," said Sue Astley. "Parents indicate their interests and willingness to volunteer and return the sheet before the end of the school year."

Then, on the day before the start of the new school year, an orientation is held for all students and their parents. "Large sign-up sheets are posted in our gym," Astley added. "Parents can sign their names in any of the blank spaces where another volunteer has not already signed up."


A key component of the volunteer program at Weatherly Elementary is the training that all volunteers receive, Teri Stokes told Education World. Training is provided for those who serve as volunteers in the clinic, copy room, library, science lab and garden center, and as volunteers in programs such as the school Safety Patrol, Student of the Week, and Reading Incentives.

Have You Seen
This Article?

Got Three Hours? A School Needs You
Who could say no to giving three hours to their childs school over nine months? Thats what the founders of the parent volunteer program Three for Me reasoned -- and they discovered once parents got a taste of volunteering, they were eager to keep coming back. Included: Tips for starting a Three for Me program.

"The copier, clinic, and library volunteers come for 1/2 day per month or more," explained Stokes. "Office volunteers come once a week for a full day, and other volunteers come intermittently based on need."

"Because they are well trained, we feel they serve a critical need," said Stokes, adding, "We let all our volunteers know that we need their support and that they help make Weatherly one of the best schools anywhere."

Principal Tammy Quist says that volunteers are recruited during registration at Estes Park Middle School. A volunteer handbook presents guidelines for all volunteers. A volunteer training program and an evaluation process are in the works, she added.

At Tennessee Ridge (Tennessee) Elementary School, most volunteers are recruited through teacher and school newsletters. "Every volunteer must attend a training session before they can work in the school or accompany a class on a field trip," said principal Judy Stephan. "At the training session, they receive an information packet that provides all the information they need."

At Providence Day School, Tim Messick tells us that a Room Parent Handbook details volunteer responsibilities and offers guidelines such as the following:

  • At the start of the year, the room parent meets with the teacher to discuss classroom needs, activities, and events that will require support.
  • The room parent is responsible for setting up a classroom telephone tree for emergency communication.
  • Room parents arrange for field trip chaperones. (Siblings may not accompany parents on field trips because the parents' focus needs to be on supervising students, not on their own young children.)
  • All classroom functions are paid for by an internal school fund; room parents are not allowed to solicit or collect any additional money from parents.
  • When it comes to parent-teacher conferences, room parents do not get involved. They must not put themselves in the middle of conversations between parents and teachers.


Recruiting volunteers at the high school level can be quite a different task than it is in elementary and middle schools. "At the secondary level parents are not as quick to volunteer. However, they will respond and help if you make a personal phone call and ask for their help," said Dr. Lee Yeager, principal at S&S Middle School in Sadler, Texas.

"Our PTO does most of the volunteer recruiting for us," he added. "All volunteers, including parents, are required to complete a criminal history background check."

Join the

What do you do with volunteers who overstep boundaries and interfere with classroom and school dynamics? As a principal, you want to be grateful for their time and talents, but If you have had to deal with a difficult volunteer situation, or if you have any ideas for handling that type of situation, please link to our message boards and join the conversation.

Getting volunteers is not always an easy task for Gretchen Schlie. "I go around and talk to parents, and I mention the need for volunteers in my report at the PTO meeting," said Schlie. "But I still have a hard time getting parents to come in and help. One time the PTO jumped to the challenge, but the whole volunteer idea was awash within two days."


Providing valued volunteers with special recognitions is a great way to thank those who have given their time to make your school a better place. It is also a way to draw attention to volunteer opportunities in your school. Positive press can help build interest and recruit new volunteers. A photo in a local paper of volunteers being honored could lead other individuals or a community group to get involved or provide much-needed resources.

At West Elementary School, former principal Paul Young shared that holiday and end-of-year celebrations are key to recognizing the school's valued volunteers. Thank-you letters and certificates go a long way toward letting people know how much you appreciate their efforts too. "Our volunteers were even recognized this past May with the Central Ohio Area Council on Aging's 'Service to Seniors Award'."

"We recognize our volunteers informally throughout the year with thank-you notes and special mentions in our school newsletter," added Heather Hamtil. "We acknowledge them formally and publicly at an awards ceremony near the end of the year. The way we recognize them changes from year to year."

Principal Sue Astley has no problem finding volunteers. "As you can imagine, private schools often have more volunteers than we can possibly use," said Astley. "It's a such nice problem to have." Astley and her staff recognize those volunteers with feature articles in the school newsletter and in many other ways.

At Estes Park Middle School, Tammy Quist honors volunteers with a special luncheon, the "Volunteer of the Quarter" award, at board meetings, an in many other ways.

At Weatherly Elementary, volunteers are provided with lunch in the school lunchroom once a week. "They seem to appreciate that," said Teri Stokes, "because we have great food!"

Stokes pays for those lunches with money made from several sources, including the profits drink machines.

"Each of our volunteers works in a specific area of our school," added Stokes. "Those areas -- for example, the clinic, the science lab, the library, or the main office -- plan something special for volunteers. In addition, the faculty plans a 'volunteer tea' each year, and we have students write thank-you notes."

All of those things help recognize the important role volunteers play at Weatherly.


This year, Stokes added, the school plans to create a 'Volunteer Hall of Fame.' Any volunteer who contributes 20 or more hours will have their picture posted in the Hall of Fame. "We are going to be very careful to make sure that we 'catch' everyone," said Stokes. "All our volunteers sign in and out in our volunteer log, so the PTA and the school can keep track of how many volunteers we have and how much time they give us."

At the end of the year, the faculty at Tennessee Ridge School recognizes their volunteers by presenting them with a flower and a certificate. Volunteers' pictures also appear in the local newspaper, added Judy Stephan. "Many of our volunteers work one day a week as an extra hand in the office," she said. "We even have two volunteers who no longer have children in our school. They simply enjoy being a part of the Tennessee Ridge family."

A volunteer breakfast at Orchard Hill Elementary recognizes everyone who has volunteered during the year. "While the contributions of volunteers vary, it is difficult to single out one person or activity over another. You invariably miss someone or hurt someone's feelings," said Bridget Braney, "so we distribute certificates of appreciation and volunteer pins to all of our volunteers."

Principal Gretchen Schlie recognizes the volunteers who help out most at her school's end-of-year awards ceremony. I also post their photos on a 'THANK YOU' bulletin board."


Many schools and districts track volunteer hours. They do so for reasons that range from creating reports for the local school board to qualifying for state recognitions. Others use data collected to promote, market, and expand their programs.

Principal Joe Corcoran tracks volunteer service hours at Harriet Gifford Elementary. "Last year we purchased a software license to," he explained. "With that program we were able to document parent involvement to the tune of 3,200 volunteer hours."

Every volunteer at Gifford must stop first in the office. They login on a computer. The program prints out a label with their name, the word Volunteer, and the reason they are volunteering.

Corcoran likes the program for many reasons, including the fact that when he sees a parent volunteer in the hallway, he can immediately look at the person's nametag and thank them by name for giving their time to the school.

"We always knew parents volunteered their time, but we really had no way of knowing how much until we started using this program," he said. "The program provides us with data about the types of activities volunteers do. We can see how many hours parents volunteer on specific events such as the back-to-school picnic or book fair and how many hours volunteers devote to tasks such as assisting with students in classrooms.

"Some parents do volunteer work on events from home, and those hours can be logged in as well."

The program also enables Corcoran to print a master volunteer list that can be used for inviting all volunteers to an appreciation tea that is organized by the school's student council. "All our teachers are on hand at that event to say thank you," said Corcoran. "All of the volunteers' names are listed in the program too."

"Our school is 62 percent low-income," added Corcoran. "Finding volunteers can be a challenge for many schools. However, we have many volunteer options in place, and we find that parents appreciate having meaningful opportunities to help out."

"Principal" Contributors to This Article

Thank you to the thirteen principals who contributed to this article. If you would like to contribute to a future article, you can learn how to do so by clicking here.

  • Sue W. Astley, assistant headmaster and elementary principal, St. Martin's Episcopal School, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Bridget Braney, principal, Orchard Hill Elementary School, South Windsor, Connecticut
  • Joe Corcoran, principal, Harriet Gifford Elementary School, Elgin, Illinois
  • Larry Davis, principal, Doctors Inlet Elementary School, Middleburg, Florida
  • Heather Nicole Hamtil, assistant principal, St. Vincent de Paul Academy, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Dr. Layne B Hunt, principal, Fair Plain Renaissance Middle School, Benton Harbor, Michigan
  • Tim Messick, principal, Providence Day School, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Jack Noles, principal, Shallowater (Texas) Intermediate School, Shallowater, Texas
  • Tammy Quist, principal, Estes Park Middle School, Estes Park, Colorado
  • Gretchen Schlie, principal, International Christian School, Seoul, Korea
  • Judy Stephan, principal, Tennessee Ridge (Tennessee) Elementary School
  • Teri Stokes, principal, Weatherly Heights Elementary School, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Dr. Lee Yeager, principal, S & S Middle School, Sadler, Texas
  • Paul Young, principal (retired), West Elementary School, Lancaster, Ohio (past-president, NAESP, 2002-2003)