BY Sarah H. Ostergaard, J.D.
Magnet Lead Teacher
Webmaster, Social Media Coordinator
Irmo High School International School for the Arts
As summer winds down and families gear up to return to school, we look forward to a new school year fresh with opportunity. In an ideal world, all the children’s’ backpacks are filled with supplies, new clothes are ready, after school arrangements are made, schedules are shared, and excitement grows.
Like democracy, education is a participatory exercise. Each of us has a role to play in our local school system. Fortunately, we live in an area with rich cultural and ethnic diversity. At the same time, we live in an area with great disparity given the socio-economic challenges facing some of our youngest neighbors.
Over the next several months in this space, we will explore ways to engage and be involved in the local school system considering four familiar aspects: time, talent, treasure, and voice. We are fortunate to have such a breadth of experience and energy among our neighbors. This community includes retirees, families, single parents, college students, couples, singles, empty nesters, and everyone in between. Before we go into specific details about specific programs and opportunities in our local schools, let us first look at how we might use the concepts of time, talent, treasure, and voice as a framework to consider how you can become meaningfully involved in our local schools.
Being involved with a local school does not have to be time-consuming or burdensome; there are many different ways to engage depending on your time and interests. Parents, your child benefits when you create a positive connection between home and school. The first step in being involved is to be present: read the parent newsletter, attend school events, and talk with your child about school. However, it is not only parents who should be involved by offering the gift of time; schools benefit when the community is engaged.
Specific suggestions for investing your time in our local schools is the main focus of the next column in September.
There are many options. School District Five has a formal mentoring program, where community members receive training and assist struggling readers, provide tutoring, and are a positive influence. All schools host versions of Career Day, and seek volunteers from the community to talk with children about jobs. High school career coaches welcome community members to share career expertise and help students prepare resumes and more. Our students are eager for real world engagement and you have valuable experience to share.
Volunteer organizations need specialized assistance such as a treasurer for their 501(c)(3) status, a graphics designer for fundraising posters, master gardeners to plant flowers, announcers for sporting events, and more. What talent do you possess that you can freely share with our schools?
Investing your treasure in our schools leads to future qualitative gains. While we are fortunate in our area to enjoy well-funded schools, magnet programs, and social services, there is always more our community can do to ensure equitable access and fulfill needs. Extracurriculars can be costly. Field trip fees, competition fees, and things like a club’s uniform costs are often met through creative fundraising. District-wide or school-related philanthropic organizations fundraise to provide for hungry students in our area, grants to teachers for classroom items, academic research projects, and more. Parent/Teacher/Student Organizations, athletic booster clubs, marching bands, sports teams, and academic clubs seek donations and host spirit nights to lower the cost of competing.
If you have attended a school spirit night at a local restaurant, bought a fundraising item, paid for a ticket to attend a school event, or otherwise contributed to a fundraising effort, thank you.
As you use your time, talent, and treasure to benefit our local schools, you may find yourself interested in learning more about how schools function, and you may find yourself reading up on current events in education, asking questions, and offering your observations. Please be an informed advocate for public education. Our community depends on public education to prepare the next generation; in turn, the strength of our public education system depends on an informed, engaged community.
Thus, no matter where you find yourself along life’s journey, your gifts will find a welcome home in our schools. Local schools and the communities they serve form a unique partnership and you are a very important part of it.
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]