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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 2, 2007

Parents can volunteer to help schools

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Helping out at Ala Wai Elementary School, Lucy Teal sorts puzzle pieces that were mixed up in storage. Teal does volunteer work there for about 40 hours a week and has been with the school since 1999.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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It's a whole new school year, and we have ways for you to share your school news:

  • Submit articles about the good things happening at your child's school to our community Web sites at www.honoluluadvertiser.com.

  • Have your favorite school snapshot included in our photo gallery at www.honoluluadvertiser.com.

  • Chat about back-to-school issues at www.HawaiiMoms.com.

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    Lucy Teal started volunteering at Ala Wai Elementary School when her son entered kindergarten.

    Eight years later, and two years since her son moved on to middle school, Teal is still a regular presence at Ala Wai Elementary.

    During the school year, she works a 40-hour week on average. She allows herself a little break during the summer, coming in four days a week instead of five.

    "It's validating," Teal said. "I get energized."

    Teal is an extreme example of the hundreds of parent volunteers who spend time on Hawai'i public school campuses every year, reading to students, tutoring them one-on-one and preparing materials for lessons.

    As public school students return to classes this week, chances are there will be at least one parent on their campus, volunteering a few hours or the whole day to make things go a bit smoother for teachers and kids.

    And research indicates that kids whose parents give time to their schools are more likely to succeed — and behave. But officials say schools in the Islands are having more difficulty getting parents in the classroom, mostly because parents work, sometimes more than one job.

    "Elementary students cannot survive without volunteers," said Charlotte Unni, principal of Ala Wai Elementary School. "But if they come sporadically, it's really hard to plan something." Unni said parent volunteers at the school pitch in in a myriad of ways, from tutoring kids to watching them at recess so their teachers get a break.

    The PTSA in Hawai'i is encouraging parents to donate just three hours to a school each week as part of a national initiative. The idea is that if everyone gives a little, then schools will get a lot.

    "If every parent took at least three hours a week to give back to their school, what a difference that would make," said Valerie Sonoda, PTSA-Hawai'i president.

    But Sonoda said principals and teachers have a responsibility to advertise their need for volunteers, have an open-door policy and make it worth someone's while to help out. If a parent feels shut out or bogged down with menial work, their volunteering will likely be short-lived. "If you want to help, you also want to feel welcome," Sonoda said. "Schools have to make it so parents see value and they feel good about it."

    For the best volunteering experience, Sonoda said, parents should make it clear to teachers what they want to do and what their strengths are. "Part of it is the responsibility of the parent to be able to articulate what they're willing to do," she said.

    When parents take the time to help out in classrooms, they can really make a difference, said Steven Shiraki, administrator of the student support services branch at the state Education Department. They can also come to better understand how the education system works and how it can improve.

    "They really start to understand what's happening in the classrooms," he said. "The benefits are really fantastic."


    Want to help at your child's school? Before you jump in, think about what you want to do, how much time you can donate and what other obligations you have.

    Here are a few tips on how to get started:

  • Make contact: Call, write or talk to your child's teacher to ask how you can help.

  • Know yourself: What are your interests and abilities? How do you feel about a room full of rowdy kids? Are you available during the day, or can you only donate hours at night? Discuss your preferences, schedule and talents with the teacher.

  • Discuss the details: Some schools prefer that parents don't volunteer in their child's classroom. Others ask parents to go through an orientation before volunteering their time. Make sure you have all the details set before you show up.

    Source: Scholastic.com


    At school:

  • Talk about your career

  • Read to the class or individual students

  • Share your culture or ethnic background with food and celebrations

  • Tutor struggling students

  • Supervise kids at recess or in the library

  • Help out with an art or science activity

  • Set up and clean up for a class party

  • Chaperone a field trip

    At home or the office:

  • Make copies, type and proofread classroom materials or put together a mailing

  • Create, update or maintain a class Web site

  • Help plan a school event, like a play, dance or parent night

  • Clip coupons or bargain-hunt for classroom supplies

  • Assemble gift bags or favors for a class party

  • Invite the class for a tour of your office or place of business

    Source: Scholastic.com

    Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.

    Correction: School volunteer Lucy Teal has a son, not a daughter. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.