- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Pat Long of Nanjemoy started volunteering at her grandson’s school when he was in kindergarten.
Today, that grandchild is 20, and her youngest grandchild is a senior at Henry E. Lackey High School. Long continues to volunteer at Mount Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School, where she started volunteering in 1994 simply because “there is no way in hell teachers have time to do everything.”
Long and Helen Griffith are two retired women who spend two days a week at the school doing anything within their capabilities that staff ask of them.
Griffith, who lives in Bryans Road, is a retired Charles County public school secretary. Her daughter teaches at Mount Hope/Nanjemoy, which is how she came to volunteer there.
Long and Griffith show up Tuesdays and Thursdays and typically have a list of things to do for the day.
“We literally do anything the teacher asks us to do,” Griffith said.
That could be cutting and pasting, creating name tags for games or laminating classroom materials.
The two recalled one time when the school was going to have an event celebrating spring near the Easter holiday. Griffith and Long had the opportunity to fill about 1,000 plastic eggs with small prizes for students.
“We got home exhausted,” Griffith said, but it was worth it because, while it took three days to complete the task, students who might not otherwise have gotten treats for Easter were able to enjoy some that day.
Some adults volunteer to be more involved in their child’s education. Others do it to be a role model to a child who isn’t theirs, and some do it for other reasons.
Investing in the future
“It’s important. Our kids are our future,” said Stuart Miller, a parent volunteer at Huntingtown Elementary School. Miller is a pilot who juggles work, parenting and volunteering.
In recent years he admitted he schedules work around his volunteering, but sometimes sacrifices must be made, and he’ll have to miss out on a volunteering opportunity to work.
His employer, Southwest Airlines, has a program called Adopt a Pilot, which, according to its website, is a supplementary way to educate students through aviation-themed activities related to science, geography, math, writing and other subjects. Miller and fellow volunteer Chip Hancock provide the program at the Calvert school.
Miller recalled a time when he realized his volunteering did more than just invest in his own children’s education. Attending his son’s graduation from elementary school, Miller listened to a speech given by another student.
“He got up and started talking,” Miller said. He knew soon that what the boy was going on about in his speech was the Adopt a Pilot program. “He just kept talking about it.”
“I was floored he even remembered it,” Miller said, adding that while at the ceremony he had “a wake-up moment that what you do does have an impact.”
Having a moment
One day a couple of years ago, Brenda Scheufele of Ridge had one of those moments.
She was working as a reading helper at Ridge Elementary School. One of the little boys she had been working with came up to her with a book in his hand, excited to show her that he could read.
“He was beaming,” she said, recalling watching the boy read for the first time.
Scheufele volunteers at Ridge ES to be close to her child who attends the school, but does not limit her volunteering to her daughter’s classroom. In fact, she is looking to start a program that aims to help many.
Scheufele said she would like to start Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, a program designed to teach young students other languages. Scheufele researched the link between learning a language and student performance in reading and math and wants to provide the opportunity to learn languages to youngsters. The goal is to start the program with Spanish.
Watching a child react to something simple like dressing up in a costume to represent a particular theme or recognizing a volunteer right away “pays you more than money can,” said Sherry Mervine, president of the Calvert County Council of PTAs.
Mervine, a part-time teacher at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Solomons and a substitute teacher for Calvert’s public schools, said no teacher goes into teaching believing he or she will be rich.
She said she thinks the same way when it comes to volunteering.
“We don’t even get a paycheck,” she said.
Volunteers put in a lot of time.
Last year, St. Mary’s County’s public schools reported 44,793 volunteer hours. Paul Fancella is the coordinator for volunteers in St. Mary’s schools. He said while that number equates to 5.1 years of service in just one year, those are only the hours that are documented. He said many parents volunteer on booster clubs that meet in the evenings when there is no access to the computer system that logs the volunteer hours.
In Calvert, parents and community members logged about 88,000 volunteer hours last year, said Bridget Kluwin, teacher specialist for the school system.
Charles County does not keep a record of total volunteer hours in its public schools, but each school tracks its hours individually.
Lori Joy, president of the St. Mary’s County Council of PTAs, said at each level of education parent volunteers are welcome. She said volunteers are only expected to put in as much time as they are willing to give.
On the elementary level, volunteers typically help out with getting material ready for teachers and planning events such as fall festivals. Dances are big volunteer opportunities in middle school, and volunteers do a lot of work with booster clubs and concession stands in high school.
“People think they aren’t needed to volunteer in middle schools,” Mervine said.
She said many volunteers think students don’t need them to help out in schools after elementary school, that students don’t need them there. “They need them just as much,” she said.
Joy said there are plenty of ways to volunteer at the upper levels.
“What’s missing at the high school level is volunteers and support” for student government associations, she said.
Joy said volunteering at a school does not mean a person has to show up at a school. For parents who want to get involved but whose schedule doesn’t allow visits during school hours, there are plenty of opportunities. One parent, she said, designed a website for a school’s parent group. Though she did the work outside the school, she still was credited for volunteer hours.
Long and Griffith find themselves doing work for the school at home as well.
Joy said for school dances many think volunteering means standing in a gym with loud music amid a gaggle of dancing teens, but some volunteers can be responsible for preparing for the dance, planning it or shopping for the snacks.
Mervine said another area where volunteers are needed is advocacy. She said she’s happy there are parents who feel strongly about education, and she would like to see someone step up who has an interest in education issues who could explain to others how different pieces of legislation affect the school system locally.
Mervine said Maryland PTA does a good job passing information down to local PTAs, but she said it would be nice to have someone locally breaking down information for parent groups.
The main difference between PTAs and parent-teacher organizations is that PTA is a national organization and PTAs pay national and state dues, Joy said. PTAs also lobby on educational issues.
While members of the different groups will encourage membership, they say the important part is not what acronym is behind the volunteer’s name.
“We want volunteers. We don’t care in what form,” Mervine said. She said volunteers advocate for students and embrace all students. “They are all our kids.”
Leslie DeLacy, president of Mount Hope/Nanjemoy’s PTO, said, “It’s not all about work. It’s about getting to know people and getting involved.”
DeLacy said with the PTO at her school there are fundraising events, but “it’s not just about fundraising. It’s about parents getting to know one another and the school coming together as a community.”
Each county has requirements for volunteers who plan to spend time in the schools, which include signing in at the main office when arriving at a school.
In Charles County, those wishing to volunteer for a set number of hours daily or weekly must talk with a school administrator, sign a volunteer information agreement, and go through the school system’s fingerprinting process. Volunteers must be 21 and adhere to all rules and policies set out in the agreement.
St. Mary’s has orientations for parent volunteers going over county policy. This year the orientation included a new training manual as well as the child abuse and sexual harassment training that all school employees take.
Joy said volunteers used to get fingerprinted and would then get a badge. The new process, she said, has volunteers fill out a form and a background check is done. She said the process is easier and the changes were done as a safety measure. Fancella said the trainings will be done annually.
In Calvert, the school system uses a program called Keepn Track when signing volunteers in and out of schools. According to the school system’s website, since July 1, 2010, all visitors and volunteers are screened each time they enter a school or facility. Kluwin said the screening process includes scanning the volunteer’s driver’s license to run the volunteer’s name through the national sex offender registry. All volunteers need to complete an online application before they may begin.
Additionally, it is Calvert school board policy that any volunteer working alone with students or attending an overnight trip must get fingerprinted. The school system pays for the FBI fingerprinting fee.