Moms Volunteering in School
Many parents love to volunteer at their children’s schools. It keeps them involved in their kids’ lives and offers a strong sense of worth. However, budget cuts have heightened the demand for volunteer support, and they’ve come at a time when the economy has required that many stay-at-home mothers go back to work.
Bay Area Parent asked local moms about volunteer fatigue. Here’s what they have to say:
“My two sons attend Graystone Elementary School (part of San Jose Unified School District). Every year since they began in 2004, I have volunteered to be “room mom” for both their classes. As a former teacher, I am very sensitive to the fact that teachers spend hundreds of their own dollars to buy things for the classroom that the politicians have deemed “non-essential.” Part of my job has been to organize my room parents each year to pitch in and buy the things the teacher needs that are not covered in her budget. We are very fortunate to live in an area with a dedicated group of parents who, along with providing supplies, also volunteer to run our music, art, P.E. and self-esteem building programs. Without parent volunteers, the school experience would be a much less well- rounded one for our children.”
– Amber Marienthal, Almaden Valley
“Schools often ask for more parents than they need. It is simply not necessary to have six people running the bake sale or four moms helping 20 third-graders make masks. This makes parents feel like they go through the inconvenience of showing up when it isn’t really necessary. Additionally, kids don’t need more T-shirts, prizes, events or celebrations. They need to practice more responsibility doing things themselves, which will give them the ability to collaborate and innovate in groups, instead of expecting an army of parents to show up and celebrate them.”
– Julie Colwell, Sunnyvale
“I do agree with those who say that being able to volunteer at all is incredibly rewarding. But just like we need to ‘work smart’ in a corporate world, we need to ‘volunteer smart’ in the schools. I think the trick is how to balance working parents without pushing them over the edge! For example, have meetings start and end on time. Keep things efficient. Keep communication clear. Find ways for working parents to help outside of work hours. Get the dads to do more. Schools need to limit the number of ‘asks’ for volunteer help, keeping in mind that some parents have three or four kids at school.”
– Melanie Norall, Palo Alto
“The amount of volunteering requested of us has definitely increased. However, I am happy to do as much as I can, knowing that it’s helping the kids and teachers during these difficult economic times.
Their hands are tied. I’d rather pitch in and help out, then let the programs suffer as a result of economic woes and cuts.”
– Lisa Cope, Menlo Park
“My heart lies in volunteering and being part of the school, but last year I got more work and I got more stressed out. I had to decide that I can only do so much.
When my son started kindergarten, the thing that shocked me is how much more parents are expected to do than when I was in school. We’re responsible for lunch duty. It floors me that teachers don’t do lunch duty. Schools in general expect parents to step up for things that have been cut over the years. It takes away from some of the fun stuff you can do as a parent volunteer. I get frustrated with that.
When I wasn’t a working mom, I felt like I had to do it because it was my obligation. Now, I hate saying no, but everybody is happier if I’m serious about what I can and can’t do. I got over feeling guilty. No one can say I’m not doing enough, but there are certainly people who do more.”
– Lynn Landry, Alameda
“Public school is not what it used to be. Our parents dropped us off, we stayed for sports and they picked us up. Our parents didn’t have to be at school all day, and I think we’re resenting that. Parents pay for all this stuff that used to be paid for by the district – music, art, gym. We really do need parent involvement, so I think people don’t feel like they can just drop out if they want enrichment programs for their kids.
“But, you do burn out. I’m still struggling, but I’m trying to be better about wisely choosing where I spend my time. For instance, a friend of mine and I used to do weekly coffee sales at the school, as a community builder and fundraiser. This year, we decided to do it only once a month. We’re not doing it at all next year.”
– Laura Daniels, San Rafael