By Tracey K., Member of Village Voice Team, and Parent of Snowboarding Snow Leopard Catherine and Village Alum Julia
Let’s face it — there are days when your next classroom shift feels more like a chore than a privilege. Completing that unfinished driver list for tomorrow’s field trip hangs over you like a heavy pile of unfolded laundry on the living room floor. Maybe your mommy-tastic snack plans for from-scratch muffins were nixed for a bag of chips and salsa on the way to school. Life got busy, but your commitment had to be met.
Cherish our children. Love our Village community. Do hard work. Repeat.
Yet, when I asked parents to share their perspective on volunteering at Village, not one person mentioned these work-a-day hassles. Yes, they were often elbow-deep in copies and laminating. Sure, they needed to prep the car for a field trip by decontaminating the nuclear family waste off the backseat. And those innumerable hours spent planning the intricate behind-the-scenes details of a kick-butt community event? Events go so smoothly that no one even notices. Parents own it.
What did our Village parents talk about? Laughing with kids. Making friendships with other parents. Service offered to, and respect gained for, our teachers. Basically, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from their time as a volunteer at Village.
Clearly, it’s the warm heart of the volunteer, not just time-on-task, that draws out the engagement and get-it-done energy buzzing in the courtyard and classrooms at Village School. This potential for action and growth extends to the playgrounds, field trips and events. The raw parent power of what we have accomplished together is undisputable.
This volunteer heart — as with all great loves — develops over time and grows stronger each year. The more that it is nurtured and invested in, paid attention to and acted upon, the more each individual gains from the experience.
The organized structure for all our work is what gets us to participate on campus in our class time and jobs. But what makes Village special is that the ‘whole person’ and positive lessons imparted during the kids’ day in school extends out to the parents as well. Wisdom for individual students about the ‘unique and lovely you’ helps entire families grow and appreciate what works for unique and lovely us.
Ok, so while these sweet sentiments may warm the heart, they don’t necessarily quicken the hands. As our Silicon Valley cubicle neighbors would say — How do we operationalize this?
Time to get to work. Here’s a sampling of the advice I’ve gained through the years.
Meet new people — join the excitement
The Village community is warm and welcoming. Wear your Village name tag and meet someone new! In the same way Centers allows students to mix upper and lower grades in learning communities, your time on campus offers the same opportunity. Driving on field trips, or working on committees or teams is another way to establish relationships within the community. As a Kinder parent, I was assigned my first school job — planning the Open House. My partner in crime was another Kinder parent, and together we blindly fumbled through this task — learning that it was okay to not know how to do something (plenty of people stepped up to help), and that working together can form friendships that will last through the years.
Develop new talents — and share your talents with others
Some people find a school job that they enjoy, and stick with it for the next 5 years. Others prefer to try something new every term. Sometimes Centers are designed around the expertise a parent brings to the school, but many have taught a Center that allowed them to expand their own knowledge of a topic. For example, my husband was assigned to run the Spanish Center, even though he doesn’t ‘habla’ a word of ‘Espanol’. One parent recently told me that she took a parent math class one morning, and then was able to walk into her son’s 5th grade work shift and immediately apply what she had learned. When Principal David speaks of lifelong learning, it’s not just kid stuff. There are many jobs to do, and lots of flexibility to find what works, while still trying something new.
Be a positive influence
My children have adults in their lives whom they have known since Kindergarten — adults who have seen their transformation and taken the journey with them. These parents have texted me pictures from field trips, sent emails to the class retelling memorable events for those of us who couldn’t be there, and offered to check in with kids feeling low. Kids understand that people have jobs, other relationships and chores to tend to. Yet, everyone carves out time for Village, and our kids are watching. They see the priority placed on our work here, and they will model this kindness and appreciate the commitment forever. As a parent who isn’t able to be at school as often as I wish I could be, these small gestures by volunteers in that moment touch my heart in ways I could never fully describe.
Grow from experience — discover the personal satisfaction of serving
A smile of recognition, a high five on the playground or a sweet conversation with a child is all it takes to win most of us over. But when a parent spoke with me about the turnaround she witnessed in a shy, reserved child who grew into his confidence during his years in her Centers, the pride in her voice in telling their story was as though she were speaking of her own child. And in a way, she was.
As our children grow and mature, our classroom experience changes
As our kids gain confidence, they prefer to approach their work independently and only want to be helped when they specifically ask for help. From Kinder book browse to everything in between, we rely on the teachers to guide us through the best way to assist in the classroom, and marvel at the changes in our kids from year to year.
Trust your training — see something, say something
New parents are often shy about approaching kids to “help solve problems.” But we have the great benefit of Positive Discipline training under our belt. If you see something that you can help with, jump in or reach out to another parent, teacher or administrator to guide you.
Make it work
Remember my husband’s Spanish Center dilemma? The dilemma being his complete lack of Spanish? As it happened, the parent in the Photo Journalism center was fluent in Spanish. And my husband holds a Master’s degree in Journalism. A swap was made. Presto!
Fashion Design educator Tim Gunn, one of my favorite TV celebrities, is famous for saying “make it work.” If you are flexible and willing to look for solutions, it’s usually not hard to make it work at Village. My family’s work commitments changed over the years, yet we were able to find many ways to contribute to our school community outside of the prescribed schedule. I often hear people say “It’s Village” when what we really mean is “Somehow it will all come together.” With many hands, and a common goal, it always does.
Pass along wisdom
We all have something to share, and something to learn from each other. For some practical tips to help, this classic archive article still rings true. Definitely worth a read: A Day in the Life of a Village Volunteer.