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There are many ways to help as a parent

by SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times on August 19, 2013 11:00 AM

Sending your kids off to school doesn’t mean you need to be left behind on the curb.

Schools are eager for parent volunteers, but sometimes they aren’t so good at communicating how you can help.

But make no mistake, volunteers are valuable.

For example, their time is worth $18.85 an hour in Florida, according to a survey by Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits and corporate giving programs.

But it’s the uncharted value, such as staff morale and student achievement, that have the most value, said Valerie Brimm, director of strategic partnerships for Pinellas County, Fla., Schools.

“Without volunteers, you wouldn’t have that mentoring component, those tutorial sessions. You wouldn’t have that classroom interaction,” Brimm said. “It’s a huge impact on student achievement.”

To make it easy, we have compiled 18 ways you can help your kid’s school in the classroom or at home:

Give your time

• Ask teachers if they could use some classroom help. Spend an hour in the morning before you head off to work filing papers or running errands for the teacher.

• Join the PTA and be on the lookout for volunteer opportunities such as teacher lunches, school festivals and book drives.

• If your child is in a club or sport, find out if the sponsor or coach is in need of volunteer time, if there’s a booster club or if help is needed in setting up or cleaning up after an event.

• Volunteer for the Great American Teach-In. This is one day when people from the community come in to talk to a class (or as many as their time allows) about education and what it takes to do their jobs.

• See the school office about being a mentor or tutor.

They will pair you with a student, and during the school day you can stop in for an hour to help tutor or assist in a project.

• Bilingual parents can offer their skills to help teachers or to tutor students.

• You don’t have to volunteer in your own child’s class (and as they get older, they may want you far away from them, anyway).

Schools often are in need of volunteers in the library or the office or as readers to kids.

Ask the school’s volunteer coordinator.

Give your money

• Donate to the adopt-a-class fund so that the teachers can buy the supplies they need.

• On open-house night or once you have your teachers’ emails, ask them if they have a wish list.

You’ll usually see even basic supplies such as paper and printer cartridges on their lists, because of budget cuts. But they run through tons of tissues, plastic bags and hand sanitizer.

• By midyear, the inadequate supply budgets start hitting the classroom hard, leaving many teachers using their own money for cleaning, office and art supplies. If you can’t afford to buy a case of disinfecting wipes, check with businesses to see if they are willing to make a donation.

• A few weeks before winter break, teacher appreciation day or the end of the year, contact parents to coordinate a gift. Some parents will be relieved to hand over $5 or $10 and skip the shopping, and teachers will appreciate one sizable gift card (especially a major credit card that can be used anywhere).

Helping from home

• Ask the teacher if there are ways you can help from home. Don’t be surprised if she or he sends home a load of art items that need cutting out.

• Offer to be the parent who does the paperwork for the Scholastic Book Fair orders. This all can be done by email and from home. The book sales earn free classroom materials for the teacher.

• Offer to compile an email list for the teachers that they can use to send out reminders or newsletters.

• Make artwork, cutouts and decorations for the class bulletin boards or door.

• If you have access to a copy machine in your home office or can get permission from work, offer to make copies for the teacher.

• Send in food for class parties.

• Save box tops. Better yet, offer to take on the task of collecting, counting and submitting box tops (or any other collection drive).

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