By Sarah Ostergaard
Make an impact with your time
In August, we introduced the idea that our schools need you. Like democracy, education is a participatory exercise and each of us has a role to play in our local school system. The idea of time, talent, treasure, and voice will be explored each month and you are encouraged to think outside the box to share your gifts with our local schools. In this month’s column, we explore how our community can use the gift of time to become meaningfully involved in our local schools.
First, the obvious — the pandemic has thrown a wrench into our return to normalcy. School District Five has established mitigation measures, which currently mean that visitors are not allowed into our schools during the school day. That means we have to get creative in reaching out and making a positive impact. By leveraging technology or organizing indirect services like a school supply drive, your time remains a valuable resource.
Cheer on the Team
Do you enjoy attending sporting events? Maybe you haven’t attended a high school sporting event since you were in high school. Well, you’re invited. And your presence matters. There are outdoor tennis matches, football games, swim meets, golf matches, cross country meets, and other outdoor activities you can attend and give your cheers and support to eager student athletes.
Each school has a volunteer liaison and a formal mentoring program. Background checks are required and a consistent schedule is requested. Mentors help struggling readers, assist with math homework, provide a positive adult influence, and so much more.
High schools welcome virtual career talks for their students. Alumni and community members are encouraged to reach out to the school’s career counselor and offer a time to chat with students in a Google Meet so students can learn specifics about various career paths.
At Irmo High School, students in the International Baccalaureate Career-related program provide meaningful volunteer work connected with their selected career focus. Ideas for a virtual job shadow opportunity or connecting with local professionals in their field are welcome. Please email your ideas to me using the address below.
Attend Virtual School Events
Parents, make a plan to attend school events, even if they are virtual and even if you are tired. Open Houses are happening this month, so read the newsletter, look on your school’s website, or call the front office. Your child may tell you it is not necessary to go, but deep down they know you care when you make this a priority. The teachers will appreciate your support and your children will benefit from your attendance. Prioritizing school events on the family calendar makes a powerful statement that you care about your child’s learning environment.
Be a Decisionmaker
All schools in SC are mandated by our state legislature to have a School Improvement Council (SIC), comprised of community members, school staff, and parent representatives. Serving on the SIC as an appointed community member or elected parent provides a well-rounded understanding of education issues at your local school, but the meetings are open to the public and anyone in the community may attend to learn more about the school’s activities and progress toward goals. Each school’s SIC meets monthly.
Our schools’ Parent/Teacher Organizations (known as PTO, PTA, or PTSO) need volunteers overall or for a certain project, event, or fundraiser. There are some tasks within PTOs that have very flexible hours and are meaningful ways to be involved, such as BoxTop coordinator, social media person, or volunteer liaison. If you are not yet ready to make a specific commitment, simply join your school’s PTO (pay a nominal fee and complete a short form) and stay informed about upcoming events. Be honest about your level of commitment and offer what time you can, when you are able.
The first step in being involved is to be present: attend events, follow the school on social media, read the newsletter on the school’s website, and inquire about participating more where it interests you.
There are so many reasons to not volunteer: I do not have time, I do not know how, I do not think I’m wanted at school. Please put away those negative thoughts – the time is now, just start somewhere, your child and community will thank you later. Above all, give your time with an open mind and selfless spirit. You may find quite an education awaiting you.
Welcome to the 2021-2022 school year – let’s work together to make it a great one.
Thank you for reading this column. I welcome your comments and ideas for future topics via email at [email protected].