Friday, January 14, 2011

Balancing 'Parent' and 'Volunteer' in the New Year

Balancing 'Parent' and 'Volunteer' in the New Year
January 11, 2011
by Bey-Ling Sha
Voice of San Diego

With the start of a new year, many parents resolve to volunteer more often at their children's school. After all, the opportunities are nearly endless. From cutting out shapes for kindergarten art projects to grading math worksheets, from chaperoning field trips to planning school dances, parents' volunteer efforts are invaluable.

Of course, if you had to put a price on it, you could. Laura Schumacher, president of the San Diego Unified Council of PTAs, which oversees PTAs in the San Diego Unified School District, reports that total volunteer hours for the school district came to 161,767 last year, or an estimated $3,767,559.20 worth of human resources donated to more than 80 schools.

But, the real value of parent volunteerism may lie neither in the assistance provided to teachers and schools, nor in its monetary equivalence.

Rather, the real value of parent volunteerism may lie in what children — ours and others' — learn from our presence: That school is important. That children are precious and deserving of attention. That the community cares about how kids are educated.

These lessons, taught by parent volunteers without their even realizing it, are critical to our youth. Many elementary school children don't get these lessons in their own homes. Many kids in middle school are absorbing contrary messages from the news and entertainment media. And many high school students seem to think that "volunteerism" is community service that one is required to do, either for class credit or for college applications.

But, parent volunteers also need to be mindful of the dark side of the "Volunteer Force." As Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, "Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they." Volunteer burnout is real, with potentially serious personal and professional consequences. And without realizing it, we might be teaching our children a whole different set of lessons: That the needs of our own family are less important than those of our school family, that saying "no" to our loved ones is easier than saying "no" to volunteer demands, that we care more about our roles as volunteers than about our roles as parents.

Every parent volunteer needs to find his or her own personal balance between "parent" and "volunteer." This is not only my personal belief, but also my personal new year's resolution. If other parent volunteers out there have tips for me, please share!

Meanwhile ... May the Volunteer Force be with you. And stay away from the dark side.

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