I just read an interesting article called “Why I’m Sick of Volunteering at my Kids’ Wealthy School.” If you are a parent of an elementary school student, I encourage you to click on over and give it a read.
The author describes the seemingly endless requests for her time at her childrens’ school in the following manner:
“Most of these unpaid volunteer activities, while seemingly well-intentioned, are, in fact, unnecessary make-work, designed to make us feel good about ourselves even as they allow us to ignore more significant social problems, like overcrowded and underfunded schools nearby but not in our neighborhood.”
She goes on to say that the volunteer time of mothers and fathers with children in wealthier districts would be better spent in neighboring school districts with less money, less resources, and less parental involvement. She argues that those less funded schools are in true need of volunteers (volunteers who could, perhaps, read books to struggling readers whose parents don’t speak English), whereas volunteer time in the wealthy schools is frivolous (decorating the teacher’s break room is one example).
WOW. Just…wow. So much to process in her thoughts. I didn’t agree with every sentiment in her article, but I love that she gave me so much to think about.
So, full disclosure: I volunteer twice a week at the boys school. It’s a brand new K – 5th grade school in a well performing district; very nice, with lots of resources. Most of the children there are from solid middle to upper middle class families.
As compelling as I found this article, after giving it much thought I plan to keep volunteering there for a few more years.
I spend a couple hours at the school in Ryan’s class on Tuesdays, and Dylan’s class on Thursdays. Kids read aloud to me…I help kids finish up assignments…I help groups finish projects…and sometimes I spend the entire two hours running the copy machine or laminator. It’s very glamorous. I concede the authors point that the “work” I do at the boys’ elementary school is not changing the course of anyone’s life. These are good kids, with parents and teachers looking out for their educational well-being. I do pray that I could be an encourager to a kid who might need it, but for the most part these kids are thriving well-adjusted little bundles of joy. The attention and time I give them is just a small, small minuscule drop in the bucket among lots of other people giving them lots time and lots of attention.
But…even though I know I’m not acting as a shining beacon of hope and encouragement for a struggling kid who needs help…I do find real value in my time there beyond “patting myself as the back” – the motivation the author assumes. I’m can be as guilty as self-pride as the next person, but seriously? I never expected any accolades for hanging out with my boys and their friends a couple afternoons a week. The “patting on the back” thing is a poor assumption.
As I think back to why I started…I just wanted to be around the boys. I missed them. I wanted to know their friends. I wanted to experience their classrooms and know what kind of teacher they were spending 7 hours with each day. But it has evolved into providing significant parenting moments. My time there has provided chances for great discourse. “You know, you’re right. So-and-so is kind of mean sometimes! I see why you complain that he’s not nice to you. But how do you think we should treat him? It’ll be pretty tough to be kind to him on your own – you’ll really have to rely on Jesus! How can you consider him over yourself? How can you show him God’s love?” I can ask if they noticed that a child seemed lonely during center time. And if they did notice, how can they be a friend to them? I can see those traces of unhealthy pride that sneak up when they excel above their friends at a given activity, or those hints of hurt when they drop a few rungs on the social ladder. And even if I never talk to them about those little glimpses (in fact, most times I don’t), I can talk to God about those things in my prayer time for them.
So for now I have to say “No” to an idea that inspires me – spending time with kids in struggling schools, kids who may be sorely lacking in attention and time (there is an active group in Lubbock, doing just that) – so that I can say “Yes” to parenting my kids in the best way I know how. The insight I get spending those couple hours a week with them has real value as I travel this sometimes scary road of bringing up boys; and Lauryn will be navigating school in a few short years.
In the meantime, I will continue to build relationships with kids at church who have real need. Kids who are weathering the storm of divorced and embittered parents….Kids who are brought to church by their grandmothers who rescue them from bad situations for a few hours each Sunday morning…Kids who talk to me about their ill loved ones, because it makes their mom too sad if they talk about it at home….Kids who mourn the Dad that never calls them, and the Mom who is always to tired to play. I know that by God’s grace I’m providing a small amount of encouragement to those kids, and that God hears my prayers for them.
But in my heart, I’m left wondering about those kids who will never walk through the doors of my church. Kids who are out of my reach. Out of reach of anyone who might have an encouraging word or belief in them. To reach them, someone is going to have to move. It’s not going to be them. It’s going to have to be me.
Someday,when this monumental task of raising my small children is past, you will find me moving to reach those kids who need something that maybe, just maybe, I can give them.
Listen – I’m not naive. I work with high need/low income families in their homes in the course of my work a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist. For every family I pour my time and energy into, guiding them toward better interaction with their kids and more effective parenting, it’s a small percentage that radically change their course. I know I don’t have a magical influence over people just because my intentions are good. But even if the difference I could make in kids’ lives on my own might be small and even insignificant – what if other moms, maybe lots of other moms, could be encouraged and empowered to give an hour of their week at an at-risk school? Hmm…if you know me in real life, you could be getting a phone call in a few years to come join me. We’ll see how the Lord grows this dream over the next few years as I work for now in the season He’s placed me in.
So moms, do you feel time spent at your child’s school has value? Do you feel you could make a greater difference elsewhere? I’d love to hear your thoughts via comments, email, or over a cup of coffee!
(Sorry, but a few of you don’t have a choice regarding chatting with me over a cup of coffee. You know who you are. [insert evil laugh here])