Community at School

I’ve spent a lot of the past few years trying to figure out what is most important to me. If I had more time, or more money (or gasp! more of both!) how and where would I want to invest? What do I most value?

Community is definitely at the top of my list. If I had more time, and more money, I would invest in my community. I want to feel connected to where I live. I want to know people who live near me. I want to be proud of where I live, and at home in my neighborhood.

I recognized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to have the time or money to give back to my entire neighborhood in the ways I wanted. So I took that energy and that desire to feel connected and directed it at my daughter’s school.

I started becoming more involved at the end of the last school year. It was my commitment to community that pushed me to accept the request to run for PTA vice-president. And it’s that same desire to feel connected that makes me happy I took on that role.

This year I really do feel more connected to the school. I know not only the names of most of the people who work there, but feel comfortable chatting with them on the blacktop before school. I consider my fellow PTA officers friends, people I could actually count on if I needed someone to pick my daughter up from aftercare if I were running late. I know what is going on, what special events to expect, who to talk to if there is a problem. After only two months I feel more connected to the school than I ever felt last year.

I also feel better about the school in general. When you know the people who work there (both the administration and the teachers) and know what they are trying to accomplish, you see everything, even the challenges, in a more positive light.

Of course, investing of myself in my daughter’s school affects her positively. I understand that some people consider this kind of involvement a conscientious parental act. I can’t argue with that. But I like to think I’m spending so much time and energy at my daughter’s school not just for her, but for all the students there, especially the ones whose parents don’t have as much opportunity to show up.

{And honestly, I don’t have the time or bandwidth to volunteer in a capacity that doesn’t bring me closer to my kids right now. I’m lucky there is something I can manage that lets me help my kids, and my community, at the same time.}

Yesterday I called in for a sub and went on my daughter’s field trip. I wasn’t planning on going, but I had told the teacher that if he ever needed chaperones I could probably make it work. It turns out he did need chaperones, so on Friday I promised him I would be there.

And yes, my daughter was delighted for me to come. While I volunteered in her class a few times last year, I never took a day off to attend a field trip. They always had plenty of chaperones, so I never volunteered. My daughter noticed this and has mentioned it on occasion. So when the teacher said he may have to cancel the trip because he didn’t have enough parents going, I said yes in part for my daughter. But I also said yes for all the other kids in the class, because I wanted all of them to have a chance to visit the science center.

I’ve heard people say it doesn’t count as service if people we love benefit, and maybe that’s the case. I suppose it’s part of why I sent my child to a “social justice school,” so that my service for her could also be for other kids who need it more than she does.

Either way, I felt good going on the field trip today. I won’t say it was fun, because I got a hard group (I’m sure on purpose because he knows I’m also a teacher), and it was a lot of work to keep them safe on two public buses (each way!) and in the science center. And I don’t relish spending a morning I took off doing all the classroom busy work that I actively avoid at my own school (I stayed in the morning to help the teacher around the classroom). But it felt good to participate in my daughter’s education, support her (over worked and underpaid) teacher, and ensure that her class could go on the field trip.

Yes, being on the PTA and being an active, supportive classroom parent is a lot of work. But I think I chose well when I took on this focus for my dedication to community. My daughter’s school–our neighborhood school–is definitely a worthy endeavor.

9 Comments

  1. It’s so awesome that you’re doing this. I think it’s silly to say that if your family benefits them it’s not really service. At synagogue yesterday I was thinking how I want to contribute more. If I did that, of course my family would benefit! At the same time, of course it would still. R service! Also, even if you personally benefit, it’s still service. That’s what community is about.

    At the moment I am feeling stretched too thin to do one more thing. But it makes me unhappy not to be serving in any way. I feel off balance.

  2. You’re super involved!!!! I’ve been the homeroom parent 3 years in a row now and I really enjoy it, but I’ve wondered how I’ll feel about PTA. I agree with you that your service is helping more than your daughter – It’s always so surprising to see that some kids have no parental involvement or interest in their activities.

    1. Your PTA experience might be REALLY different from mine. At my kids’ school the PTA is not cliquey (I’ve heard they can be very cliquey). We really are very welcoming, mostly because we really need people to participate. We are also a pretty diverse group of parents, which helps us be inclusive. But yeah, I think our experience is the exception in PTAs, not the rule. 😉

  3. “I’ve heard people say it doesn’t count as service if people we love benefit, and maybe that’s the case.” – PSHAW! No way, dude. It’s totally service to help out those around us, whether it benefits people we love or not. You’re stilll making a concerted effort to help, which is what service is all about, right? I’m impressed you can find the time to do that stuff. It’s part of the reason I feel my job situation needs to change, because I want the flexibility to do things like volunteer for kids’ school trips!

    1. Yeah, stuff during the school day is hard for me, but I’ve taken days to help out, and I’m lucky that there are some days throughout the year when that I have off that my daughter (like we get the whole week of Thanksgiving off and they only get Thursday/Friday, and our Spring breaks are usually different weeks, so I can volunteer then too. I will admit that the PTA responsibilities in the afternoon/early evenings are hard for me. I have to take the kids, and bring them dinner, and it’s a giant pain in my ass. And taking a day off to go on a field trip is a pain in the ass too. I had to spend time on the weekend in my classroom getting ready, which means I took time away from my kids to be with them on another day. It’s definitely not a perfect system.

  4. I never comment but I wanted to jump in to say I think your involvement is fantastic! My son starts kinder next year and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to volunteer and be involved, for many of the same reasons you’ve stated. Nice job! 🙂

    1. Thanks! I think it’s easier for me to volunteer at my daughter’s school because I work at a school myself, and have a familiarity with how they work and how I can help. That definitely helps.

  5. Actually this: “I’ve heard people say it doesn’t count as service if people we love benefit, and maybe that’s the case. ” is a false excuse for THEIR decision to not be involved, not help with people, situations, programs; to not participate themselves. EXCUSE, not Truth.
    Thank you for what you did.

    1. Oooh, I like what Purple and rose said. Yes. Helping out because the people we love will benefit might be the reason for the service, but it doesn’t take away the time spent or the inconvenience experienced, and it doesn’t take away the benefits experienced by other people either – including the kids, and their teacher. Good for you.

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