Thursday, October 21, 2010

my Volunteer state

For those of you interested in following my blogs, you can click the follow button.  It's off to the right down a bit.  That way you'll know when I have a new riveting post.  I personally don't "follow" blogs, but use Google Reader.  I'm treated to a snippet when updates happen.  Either way, it's easier than checking back and being disappointed that I've gotten lazy and haven't posted for a while.

Let me start this by saying that I have 11 hours a week with no children around me.  This is my time to do things for me.  Am I getting mani-pedis?  Shopping?  Lunching?  Most often, not.  I choose to volunteer in my kids' classes.  I say choose because it is a choice.  There are so many options at our school, like most I'm sure, to help.  There's the PTA (book fairs, harvest fests, hot lunch, and so on), art foundation, contributing money, helping in the class, garden, coordinating safe riding/walking to school, room parenting, picnics and so on.  There really is something for everyone.

My most favorite thing is to help in the class.  When #1 was in kindergarten, I helped in the library.  This was a great place to see the kids and their personalities.  It was also a nice place to start.  One reason was because they all carry around a card (placeholder) with their name on it.  Boy it was hard getting to know 20 new kids.  I also helped in the class at "centers" or "jobs".  This was diverse and also enabled me to see how the teacher operated.  It gave me cues on how to communicate with them and the kids and also a preview of the work they were focusing on.  Yes, I helped him with his homework, but now I knew the purpose of the work.

The next year I got to help in centers again.  It was an amazing experience as well.  It gave me such insight into the kids in the class and their dynamics.  It also helped me forge a relationship with the teacher.  I feel lucky because we have had this teacher 3 times.  This is 2 times I didn't have to start new relationships.  That is a big deal when there is the potential for having to learn 3 new teachers a year.  One other opportunity was driving on field trips.  Wow.  I can't even remember how many times I've been to the Lawrence Hall of Science.  It's made me get a membership there because of their amazing kid programs.  Slide Ranch was phenomenal and I then sent my kids to summer camp there for the next 2 years.  So, I've gotten to know my kids' teachers, know their peers and seek out enrichment programming for summers.  I've also gotten to see what level of skills the standards are held to and where we need to work more at home.  All this for 1-2 hours a week of my time.

2 years later I had 2 classes to volunteer in.  Yikes, how to split my time.  Luckily the teachers are so flexible.  I was lucky enough to get to help with writing assignments.  Boy, it really tells you a lot about a kid when you see what they write.  Amazing pieces of personality.  I love feeling connected to who my kids are in school with.  I am lucky enough to have #2 in the same class where I get to help with writing again this year.  This is what precipitated this post.  I can't imagine doing something else with my time.  I am blown away how fast time goes by.  It made me jump in for an extra "shift".

Each week is not perfect.  There are conflicts, kids who cry, subjects that are hard to learn.  One week I had to read from Charlotte's web.  Phew, I got to stop just before she died.    I would hate to cry in front of 20 third graders.  I don't get my kids in my group each week.  That is okay.  I get to see them a lot besides school.  They are actually worse in my presence (especially on field trips).  I think the other kids like snippets of other parents too.

I can honestly say that my worst year, out of 6, in my kids' public school was the year I was not allowed to help in their classes.  It was the worst year for my kids too.  I had no idea who the kids were, what they were learning and lacked clear communication with the teachers.  It made me understand what I wanted to contribute to my kids' futures and how I could make a difference.  In 5 years, I only missed 1 field trip for #1.  It does get more complicated as I have more kids in the system.

Sadly, as the kids get into the upper grades, their need for parent volunteers diminishes.  I really don't understand this since there are more kids in the classes.  We increased our class size from 3rd to 4th grade by almost 1/3.  How can almost 10 more kids to 1 teacher ratio not need help?  I took what I could get and got to grade cursive books at the end of the year for about a month.  (Girls really do have better writing than boys.)  It enabled me to stay committed to helping #2 and #3 in their classes as I had in the past for #1.

I think the kids have 3 field trips to the Lawrence Hall of Science this year.  How can I complain?  Every year is a bit different.  I've been to Angel Island, Muir Woods, The SF Symphony, Academy of Science and more!  People travel the world to goto these places and I'm doing it in my "free" time?  One thing I'd like to say if teachers read this, don't send 4, 5 or 6 boys in a carpool together on a field trip.  It's just asking for trouble.  Nothing a round of "quiet game" and a few quarters couldn't handle, but I'm just sayin'...

So, I will continue to give up my free time to get so much more in return.  Thank you to those who make it possible.  My kids, their teachers and my hubby.  He's had to pinch hit for my commitments and has kid watched for me so I could go on field trips.  It's pretty funny to hear his recap of beading in kindergarten and seeing him try to remember who the kids were.  It takes a village and thank goodness I'm part of a great one.

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