The local edition of The Oregonian recently published an article comparing local schools here in Forest Grove with high volunteer involvement to those with little or no volunteer involvement. The article focused on parent-teacher organizations (PTOs) and their ability to fundraise to support school trips, teacher support (buying materials), playgrounds, etc. The local schools here in Washington County with high volunteer involvement are flourishing; the schools without such are struggling.
I loved the article because it really drives home just how vital volunteer engagement is, not to just get work done, but to create community investment in an organization.
I feel really bad for the schools without high parental involvement – and when you look at the makeup of the schools, it’s pretty obvious as to why the schools don’t have a PTO at all, or the one it has is barely surviving, at least in my opinion:
- the parents in the schools with little or no volunteer involvement lack the education levels and work experience of those in the high-performing schools (it’s hard to lead a fundraising effort if you have no project management experience or no public-speaking experience),
- the parents in the schools with little or not volunteer involvement often don’t speak English or don’t feel confident about their English skills (and often don’t feel confident about public speaking),
- there’s no tradition among the parents in the school with low volunteer involvement of volunteer involvement in the schools (it’s a very new idea for many),
- the parents in the schools with little or no volunteer involvement don’t have the child care resources that parents in other schools have,
- those charged with volunteer involvement in the school, or should be charged with such, don’t understand the basics of volunteer engagement.
Volunteers aren’t free. There are ALWAYS costs associated with involving volunteers. And sometimes, an organization – a nonprofit, a school, or otherwise – needs much more than someone saying, “We need volunteers.” But will corporations and governments step up to the plate and fund the staff and resources necessary to increase parental involvement in struggling schools?
A side note: the article quotes a representative from PTO Today, a company that specializes in volunteer engagement resources for schools, and it’s worth noting that the site has free resources in Spanish to reach out to Spanish speaking parents, like lists of reasons to get involved in school, lists of reasons to join the school parent group, a sample volunteer thank you letter, and more.
Also see, from me: