Parents can volunteer to help schools
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Mary Vorsino
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."
CONNECTING TO CAMPUS
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:
At home or the office:
Reach Mary Vorsino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: School volunteer Lucy Teal has a son, not a daughter. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.