The great American education reformist Horace Mann long ago observed, “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” Mann fought for such ideals as higher wages for teachers, access to education for all creeds and classes, and abolishing corporal punishment in schools. He also believed in helping others for the sake of doing so rather than for external reward—volunteerism, in other words.
Volunteering is also a central value held by The New Century School, insofar as it builds and strengthens our thriving community. For the good of all parties, TNCS has made volunteering a contractual obligation for the 2013–2014 school year. Says Head of School Alicia Danyali:
I feel strongly that volunteering is a huge component of any successful organization. At TNCS, parent involvement and support is crucial. Parents and teachers are partners in the school and in their children’s individual achievements. Making parent involvement mandatory sets an example to students that we are a true community. No matter what little time parents have available in their busy lives, they can contribute in some way with the volunteer opportunities the school provides. Whether cataloging books in the library, laying down mulch in the playground, or laminating classroom materials from home, everyone is contributing to the school in some way. It gives a sense of belonging and involvement that you can’t get waiting for others to step up. Julie Baldi and Tracy Browning have done an amazing job organizing the committees this year. That is just another example of how thankful I am for parent volunteering.
As Ms. Danyali notes, not only is volunteering mandatory this year, but the enterprise has been managed with an efficiency that make fulfilling the obligation a snap. This is thanks to the dedication of Ms. Baldi, the main contact overseeing Volunteer Committees; Ms. Browning, another parent coordinator; Emily Feinberg, the on-staff administrator; and, of course, all of the volunteers themselves. Ms. Baldi can be reached with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. She says she was asked to be the Volunteer Committee Coordinator after putting in so much volunteer time herself last year in the school library and seeing its importance firsthand.
And, because TNCS recognizes just how stretched many families are, the volunteer obligation is hardly onerous at only 8 hours. Per family. Per year! Also, the hours do not have to be completed by an actual parent, but by anyone affiliated with a particular student, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, caregivers, etc. Best of all? Volunteering doesn’t necessarily involve blood, sweat, and tears (although if that’s what your area of expertise involves, it’s welcome!). The Committee Coordinators came up with a list of areas covering a broad range of ways to help out. There’s truly something for everyone. Moreover, notes Ms. Baldi, “we made every effort to make off-school hours available for those who can’t sacrifice work hours to volunteer for the school.” Volunteering at TNCS is not a burden; it’s a pleasure—no, an opportunity, a gift even. It’s a chance to be deeply involved in your children’s day-to-day school lives, to connect with them on their turf, and to see and experience what’s going on in their lives from their points of view, all while providing a service to the school. There’s nothing so reassuring in parenting than to get proof that your child is happy and flourishing even when you aren’t there.
Ms. Danyali agrees. “One of my positions at my last school was community service coordinator for the entire elementary school,” she says. “It opened my eyes to how much people want to be involved with their children ongoing, no matter their background, interests, job constraints, etc.” This accords with Ms. Baldi’s experience so far as well. She says, “we have found that in asking people their specialties, they volunteer not just their time but their experience and expertise. They are bringing a lot to the table. In saying, ‘I would like to show kids this,’ they are providing extra learning in areas we haven’t even thought of.” Indeed, TNCS students have learned about a variety of cultures from natives of those cultures, about what it’s like to work for the Peace Corps, and even how to perform an Indian dance—all from parents!
Here are some of the many, many ways you can provide a service:
- Outreach/Admissions: volunteer during open house events, serve as a reference by being available by email and phone to prospective families, offer school tours, develop and/or edit promotional materials, or help with open house preparations.
- All School Community Events: help out at potlucks, school concerts, class breakfast events, picnics, etc.
- Classroom Volunteering: prepare classroom materials for teachers, organizing classroom activities, read to the class, etc.
- General Maintenance and Repair: repair or put together furniture, fix classroom items, and general repairs
- Greenhouse and Landscaping (with Emma): plant trees, maintain front of school greenery, and greenhouse maintenance.
- School Library: catalogue books, maintain collection, serve as visiting librarian for the elementary and primary classes.
- Athletics After School or Recess Time: organize group activities by sport and age division.
- Emergency Response Brigade: remove snow, prepare sand bags, etc. (Those living near the school would be ideal candidates.)
- Legal Help: provide legal assistance for various needs (for those with legal backgrounds).
- Other: come up with your own idea, such as perform music, lead an art project, make a presentation, teach a dance—offer any activity in which you have a specialty.
Feeling the volunteer spirit? Click here for the Parent Volunteer Committee Sign-up form! You will be so glad you did. Ms. Baldi believes that the importance of volunteering is in “keeping a sense of community in the school. This community, after all, is an extension of your family.”
Already completed some volunteer hours? Don’t forget to log them (and avoid a penalty) by clicking here! Ms. Feinberg reports that about 34% of TNCS families have already begun or completed their volunteer hours only 3 months into the school year!
“The school gives a lot,” says Ms. Baldi. “We should give a little, too.”