11 May 2009 09:44 AM

Volunteers Help Schools and Themselves

by Dr. Rick

I have always enthusiastically supported (and gratefully accepted) volunteers in the schools in which I’ve worked, whether it’s parents of the students, local businessfolk, or, especially grandparents and other seniors from the community.  (See my blog of December 16, 2008.)


Now comes word that not only do the students benefit from the good works from the volunteers, so too do the volunteers themselves.  Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have confirmed what our common sense has told us all along.  They studied senior citizens volunteering with the federally-sponsored Experience Corps, a national service program that places folks 55 and older in elementary classrooms.  Volunteers are given training – many haven’t been in elementary schools since students sat in neat rows!


The findings?  Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that the kids showed significant gains in reading comprehension and phonics, and the senior volunteers were healthier physically and mentally than their non-volunteering peers.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Young folks need old folks, and old folks need young folks.


So, if you’re interested in volunteering in your local school – no matter your age – here are a few things you could do.


  1. Think it through first.  Do you have the time and energy to honor your commitments?  Do you have a sense of humor?  Kids will make you laugh, I promise.  Do you have patience?  Kids will test your patience, I promise.  What interests and talents will you offer?

  2. Give personalized help.  Help individual kids in classrooms with their reading, math, spelling, handwriting, crafts, music, homework, or studying.  Kids need individual help now and then, and you’ll be a godsend to them and their well-meaning but overstretched teachers.

  3. Help out before or after school.  Most schools have before- and after-school activities that range from getting homework done to arts and crafts.  Be available for helping the providers with your time and energy

  4. Get out of town.  Volunteer to be a chaperone on field trips.  Parents usually accompany students on these trips, but there’s always room for more adults to go on trips to museums, historical sites, aquariums, science centers, and amusement parks.

  5. Be the homework checker.  Become the person kids can go to when they want someone to check their English essay for misspellings or typos or their math homework for careless addition or subtraction errors.  You can also be the one who goes over their class organizers to remind them of upcoming deadlines or the one who quizzes them on their spelling words before the weekly test.

  6. Be an artist.  If you have artistic talents, if you’re musical, if you’re an actor, share these talents when it’s time for the school play, concert, or art show.

  7. Be a coach.  Same thing if you have athletic talents.  See if the coaches need an extra hand at practice times or game days.

  8. Work in the office or the lunch room.  You’d be amazed at the number of things a school office worker is involved in at any given moment.  Volunteer to be the receptionist, to give school tours, to make copies.  Help out at lunchtime in the cafeteria.

  9. Write.  Write a column for the school newsletter – in print or online – about volunteer opportunities, about successful students, about classes’ accomplishments, about interesting upcoming events.

  10. Work from home.  If your schedule doesn’t permit your presence in school, but you still have some time to help out, see if there’s some kind of work you can do from your home computer – keeping records, perhaps.

The important thing is to stay involved.  One day a week, two a month, or every day.  It’s up to you.  Just keep in mind that you’re helping kids, you’re helping your community’s school, and you’re keeping yourself intellectually stimulated and active.  Plus, the kids will make you laugh every day you’re with them.  What’s not to like?


Do you volunteer at your school?  What do you do?  Share your experiences with us.  Click on “comments” below and let us know what keeps you in touch!




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