What if I told you an act as simple as showing up to lend a hand at your child’s school fair or taking a seat at the school’s PTO or PTA meeting could lead your child to a successful school career with excellent grades, graduation kudos, a secure college acceptance and, eventually, total world domination?

OK, it might not be that easy, but follow me: When my first child began school some 15 years ago, I was a young mother and new to our suburban town. My husband and I had chosen the town for two reasons: affordability of housing and proximity to my workplace.

As my first child began to walk and my second child came into the world, I knew only a few people; I hadn’t bonded with the group I remembered my own mother hanging with: the involved parents who not only helped make things happen but supported their children in all their efforts.

At the groundbreaking of a new library in town, I talked with an older mom briefly. She asked me what I thought of the town, and I answered her honestly: “I’m not sure there’s anyone I can relate to.”

She smiled, patted me on the back, and said simply, “It will all work itself out when Leigh starts school. You’ll meet them all at the PTO meeting.”

Was she ever right. Today, with Leigh well into her sophomore year at a prestigious college (after graduating near the top of her high school class) and my little one named the top middle school student in America by Prudential last year, I can safely say things seem to be working out, and I can trace it all back to that first day I stepped into a school volunteer situation.

It was the planning meeting for the Fall Family Fair, and despite having worked for years as a crime reporter, I was scared. Since I was a relatively young mom (28 when Leigh started kindergarten), I felt a bit like the Junior Girl Scout peeking in on the Gold Circle Ceremony. And I quite literally knew almost no one. Looking at the group as I walked in, they looked so tight. So connected. So already a club. Would they accept me? Could I really be one of them?

They did, and I am. Because the fact is, school volunteer groups are hungry for parents like me—parents who are not only interested in being a part of their child’s education but also willing to do what’s necessary to keep the school running the way it should.

Parents can sometimes be scared off from volunteering. They work; it’s hard to find the time. They don’t know anyone; it seems like such a tight group. They’ll be asked to run major events that professional planning companies would struggle with. Be assured, as you consider volunteering on behalf of your child, there is a place and a time commitment for everyone. If you work in a distant city and only have an hour to give here and there, that hour is as precious as the hundreds given by the ubermom who does nothing but work school events. If you aren’t a crackerjack selling cookie dough, that doesn’t mean you’re not needed to collect tickets at the door of Family Movie Night. Everyone has something to give, and stepping into that first meeting is all you need to do to find your spot.

The great thing is, no matter what you have to give, we all get the same in return: a feeling of partnership with our children and their school. A feeling of belonging in that community. You’ll be setting an example for your children, telling them that school, and all it is about, is an important part of their world right now. And you’ll make friends.

As the top students were called to the stage at my older daughter’s high school graduation, I noticed something amazing: They were all children of the parents I’d met around the PTO table. I leaned over to one mom, tapped her on the shoulder, and said, “We must have picked the right crafts for crafts night!” She knew just what I meant.

So as you start your child’s school year, whether you’re a newbie like I was or just been away from it for a while like many others, give school volunteering a chance. You’ll be most welcome. And when your child is leader of the free world, you can trace it all back to running the hula-hoop contest on Field Day. I know I’m going to.


How To Get Involved

School parent groups are about building a supportive community where teachers, administrators, and students can do their best work. Here are just a few ways you might be able to help.

  • Serve as a guest reader in your child’s classroom
  • Talk to a class about your job or hobby
  • Design a booth for the school carnival
  • Volunteer as a translator
  • Staff a school welcome desk
  • Serve as a resource for parents of incoming students
  • Help children pick out books at the book fair
  • Record a cassette tape for students to read along with
  • Participate in a phone tree to help schedule parent volunteers
  • Collect recyclables to be used in the classroom
  • Coach students in organizational skills
  • Enter fundraising orders on the computer
  • Help with school cleanup or landscaping
  • Organize a school talent night
  • Type up class lists
  • Serve on a school council or advisory board