Ideas for volunteering at DC1’s school?

DC2 will be in daycare next year and DC1 will be in third grade.  DH will be working on starting a consulting business.  I have tenure.  We think we may have more time to get involved with DC1’s school this coming year.

DC1’s school is still hurting from the disastrous financial management last year.  It’s down to 50-odd students.  The management is much better now, but it takes years to recover from bad publicity.  We’re hoping to help out some, but aren’t sure what best fits their needs and our desires and abilities.

We’re currently on the financial committee.  Their large-grants committee is in terrible shape, but their version of the PTA seems to be doing ok.  We don’t want to go on the fundraising committee, though it is insane how much that particular committee has dropped the ball and bungled things this year.  We also did a stint on recruitment last year and find that to be pretty thankless.

They also have parents doing regular helping out in class.  They have room-parents.  There’s a lovely woman doing a gardening program with the students.

My graduate degree is in social science, and really isn’t something I can teach at the K-12 level.  I do, however, have a wide range of experience in math education, both teaching and tutoring.  I even spent a year doing gifted pull-out math once a week for fourth graders in an inner city school.  (Though I would have to recreate my box o’materials– even if it still exists it is in my parents’ basement back in the midwest.)

DH has degrees in engineering and computer science.  He will probably be the adviser of the robot team next year.  He wanted to do that the first year, but for one reason or another the students didn’t field a team.  This year they did, but we had a brand new baby so that was off the table for us.

Any suggestions for what we should suggest to them, if anything?

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20 Responses to “Ideas for volunteering at DC1’s school?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Sounds like quite a project. In my experience it’s best to give them a list of ways you can help out and then give them a choice to pick what they need most. Many educators complain about not having enough support/money/time/etc…but most of them don’t take the initiative to come up with ideas of their own. In their defense, most spent their own money and time already so they also need to set boundaries. There are wonderful exceptions to this and I know some amazing teacher superstars that are moving the needle, but those folks are not the norm. So, you give them an ala cart menu of stuff and if they pick the item off the menu then they feel like it’s their idea and won’t feel like you’re pushing your “help” onto them.

    From the very brief summary, it really sounds like it’s not so much the teachers that need help but they need someone to lay out a strategic plan with what they want/need to accomplish over the next few years. They need milestones and target goals for a bunch of different categories..like enrollment. It also probably would be useful to get some positive press going. If DH starts the robot thing or science fair or whatnot, you can call the paper and see if they’ll do a story on it. It’s quite the undertaking. My last word of advice is be careful how much you sign up for. It’s very easy to get sucked in and spend too much time doing outreach vs your day job. I’m constantly trying to keep that in check.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    If you really want the school to survive, fundraising is where it’s at.

  3. Alyssa Says:

    Couple ideas off the top of my head:

    Your husband could be a science fair mentor, or start an engineering/tinkering club.

    To raise the profile of the school, you could find a local or state math contest for the students to take part in and you lead/coach the team.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They do do the state contests– our team does very well– 9 out of the 14 kids who participated ended up going to State this year.

      Yes, he could definitely be a science fair mentor… they ask for volunteers for that when it happens so he could be on the look out for it. Re: engineering/tinkering, they’ll still need someone for the robotics club besides the science teacher (who doesn’t want to do it).

  4. Practical Parsimony Says:

    Make an appointment. Educators appreciate that because their days are full. Take a list with you and discuss your strengths and their needs. They may decide they need you in a capacity you have not considered that is still within the realm of what you are willing to do. If your husband can work with the robotics, that will be a great draw and go a long way in solving whatever bad press they have had. Parents of girls will love the robotics club!

    You might send your list and volunteer letter, asking for an appointment. Your skills may beyond the norm for volunteers, so they may need to talk with teachers about where you can best serve.

    When I had been a homeroom mother (party planner) for several years, the teachers volunteered me for homeroom mother for my son’s room even though I was down in the younger child, daughter’s room, volunteering there. For a whole year I was running up and down the hall, making sure all was well in both rooms. Of course, I had a strong volunteer to help in his room. They will volunteer you for things you had no intention of doing. My problem, besides being overworked, was that I had served in my son’s room for several years, and I thought it was time my daughter’s room should become a priority for my daughter’s sake. When they are little, they really like their mother present in the classroom. This experience wore me out, but they signed me up for two rooms the next year. This is a VOLUNTEER position, but I was a good/reliable homeroom mother and cooperative when I was recruited. Just a warning!

  5. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I think you’ve got some pretty good ideas yourself to be honest. I agree with Comradde that fundraising is a big deal and when it’s done well, it makes a huge difference. Do you guys do Square 1 Art over there? That one is really popular at my school. And the book fair too. Our gala this year was a HUGE success but it’d been a while since we had one. I think that’s what helped it honestly.

  6. plantingourpennies Says:

    Your ideas sound they would definitely make a difference in individual student lives (pull-out gifted program and robotic sponsor especially), but whether or not that makes a difference in the bottom line of the school’s financial viability may be another matter entirely.
    What type of school is it? Is it special enough that alum (I know it’s hard to think about alums of an elementary school…) would donate to keep it around for future generations? My high school recently started an alumni organization now that some of the older alumni are old enough to have children attending (or wanting to find a similar school if they’ve since moved away). But one of the drivers behind it are current parents who work with the alums on figuring out projects to fund and doing a lot of the solicitation. The school is special enough that I really hope if we ever have kids they’ll have a school like that and I was glad to cut them a check for their recent library fundraising drive this winter. If my elementary school had been as special and was in the same dire straights, I’d probably cut them a check too.

  7. Linda Says:

    Not having any experience with kids or schools, I’m not sure this is appropriate, but I immediately thought of Mutant Supermodel’s post that mentioned code.org. http://mutantsupermodel.com/2013/02/27/moving-on-random-style/

    Are the kids learning to code or learn that way of thinking? That would be super valuable and perhaps DH or you could help with that. As a social scientist, don’t sell yourself short. I had a professor for my social science major who started us off with learning about scientific and critical thinking. You know: constructing a hypothesis and then moving on to theory, the concept of parsimony, etc. He insisted that we didn’t know those most basic skills…and he was right. Of course, I’m in my mid-40s, so maybe teaching this type of thinking is pretty standard now for kids. But third grade doesn’t seem too early to start learning it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They actually get that critical thinking stuff in their science classes– it is a *really* good school. (No, not standard, but they have it at this school.)

      The coding stuff is neat. That sounds like a good thing to slot in too, if DH is interested.

  8. Shannon Says:

    Another code related suggestion: http://www.tynker.com/ I’ve done some of the code.org stuff, and it’s targeted at a bit of a higher level. The tynker stuff looks like it is specifically designed for younger kids, but you need to have school adoption. You could be the leader of the school adoption.

  9. chacha1 Says:

    Well, the immediate needs seem obvious: publicity, fundraising, and a business plan.

    As to the actual curriculum, I think you personally (whichever of N&M we are addressing) might propose something for the upper grades in the social-sciences & math intersection of … economics! There is no career path in which understanding economics is not helpful.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m actually not so good at teaching first semester economics. I, um, seriously threatened to quit my day job if they made me teach intro Econ this year (it would have been on top intro Stats, which is another large difficult to teach class… truly ridiculous). I’m much more comfortable with the entire math sequence and the econ that one can teach using Calculus. Going back and figuring out how to teach something I haven’t done or even seen since the mid-1990s would be more time and effort than I’m prepared to put in.

  10. becca Says:

    Personal finance classes for kidlets?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Too bad they don’t work!

      • becca Says:

        Well there’s lemonade stands (or cookie sales), and imaginary stock market money, and “here’s a budget and a grocery circular, plan your shopping for the week, include X fancy cheeses” and “how to make the most people happy with a weird list of preferences and a given pizza budget” (that one is trickier than it sounds and frequently confuses the adults).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sure, there’s lots of personal finance classes. Too bad they don’t do a lick of good.


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