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Does parental volunteering create a strong school culture?

One writer examines whether American parents should get involved at their kids’ schools or focus their efforts elsewhere.

By Charyn Pfeuffer - MSN Living Editor Sep 5, 2013 8:18PM

American parents spend a lot of time volunteering at their kids’ schools.

Nearly nine out of 10 attended at least one PTA or other school meeting in the 2011-12 school year, according to data released last week by the Education Department's National Household Education Surveys Program, reports Slate. Six out of 10 participated in at least one school fundraiser.

Image Source/Getty ImagesSlate writer Amanda Ripley took a look at how parents get involved in their kids’ education in several countries. She concluded that in other countries, parents are indeed involved with their kids’ education but are not caught up in bake sales, joining the PTA or attending after-school sporting events like many American parents. Instead, these international parents focused their time and energy on learning activities at home, such as routinely reading to young children or discussing movies and news with their teenagers.

In a 2009 study of parenting in 13 countries and regions, parents who volunteered at their kids’ schools had children who performed worse at reading than parents who did not volunteer. In only two countries, Denmark and New Zealand, did parental volunteering have a positive effect.

More on MSN Living: How do you help your community?

Still, many American parents believe that whether a parent is involved with their kids' education in the classroom or at home, it helps build a foundation for a better-educated child. It also sends a message to your children that education is important.

“When I was home full time I volunteered a lot – once a week or so in the classroom, either with the kids, working on projects, reading or field trips, or doing work to help the teachers – bulletin board, laminating, photocopying,” says Libby Seiter Nelson of Phoenix. “I was also the room mom every year and worked on PTO as our school's volunteer coordinator.” 

Bing: Ways parents can get involved in the classroom

Now that Nelson’s kids are older and she’s working outside the home, she’s scaled back to a few times a month, helping with parties, etc. “I love seeing the kids in action and also building a closer relationship with the teachers,” she says. “When I was home full time, I felt like I was making a ‘time deposit’ for the self I am now and for the other working moms who wished they could be there.”

More on MSN Living: 6 ways to teach your kids the thrill of giving back

Gina Cohen of Issaquah, Wash., typically volunteers once a month in her son's classroom and at one school party or event per year. “I like being able to interact with the kids that he talks about every day, to see my son in his learning environment and how he acts at school, and frankly, just to show that I care about him,” she says.

Do you think volunteering at your kids’ school has an effect on how much they learn?

Read the complete story in Slate here.

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Photo: Image Source/Getty Images

42Comments
Sep 9, 2013 8:26PM
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My children were in a test program in the California School System where parents had to work in the classroom. The classroom consisted of grades 1-3 and there were 2 teachers and 3 parents for approximately 60 students. The students were encouraged to work at their own pace and could move on into higher grades curriculum as they progressed. The classes accommodated ESL students and extra time was given to them on language and reading skills. The parents worked at the direction of the teachers and if they did not want to follow direction then they were told to place their student in a regular classroom. I thought it worked very well. It increased the amount of individual instruction and freedom for students to work at their own pace since smaller groups could be managed effectively. I am not sure how well this would work in higher grade levels. One, the curriculum becomes more difficult. Two, parent to child relationships become increasingly more complex during the teen years. Still, I was impressed by the accomplishments of the program and I do think that the commitment from the parents to their children's education resulted in better students than those whose parents might abdicate responsibility for the children's education to the school. Just one parents opinion. 
Sep 9, 2013 6:45PM
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It depends on the parent/teacher and situation. Parents who follow the teacher's leadership and give help where it is needed can be fantastic. On the other hand a parent, and I have been witness to this, who decide they "do their own thing" including disrupting the class can be a terrible disruption. I actually experienced a father who would make faces behind my back to make the class laugh, speak loudly with "that's not the way my teacher used to do it" and constantly correct the students. When asked to stop he became angry. On the other hand I have experienced parents who were a Godsend by redoing bulletin boards, tutoring students who needed a little extra help or helping by putting books in order on the shelves. Help also needs to be scheduled. Not simply a drop-in I'm here to help situation. As in most all things there are pros and cons.
Sep 9, 2013 6:44PM
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That sure is a loaded question! The answer depends greatly on the parent and the child. I used to volunteer at school when my kids were in elementary school. Most of the time I worked in the library or in a different room than my kids. I would eat lunch with my children and they were happy to see me. I generally think parents should not be in their own child's classroom, with the possible exception of a special needs child.

Sep 9, 2013 6:19PM
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As a teacher I feel that parents belong in the home . My job is to teach and the parents too guide, direct and be parents and Not a buddy friend which is all to prevalent today. Parenting is a full time position which requires far more development potential than that of a teacher. Should the school expect parents to fill a void in education due to budget constraints , than tax money is being inadvertently misused and administration salaries should be adjusted along with a review of some teachers salaries and sports financing. Not a popular assessment by a teacher but an accurate one!!!!
Sep 9, 2013 3:55PM
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Parents should stay out of the classroom. There should be a separation between school and the child constantly under the watchful eye of a parent. Send the volunteer parent to another classroom to volunteer.
Sep 9, 2013 3:46PM
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As long as it is not a Catholic Priest.
Sep 9, 2013 4:18AM
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When my son was in Elementary school I did a lot with him and his classes. I let the teachers know that I was going to be involved in my child's education. I seen 6 little kids graduate from kindergarten, and I seen the same 6 young adults graduate together from high school. Funny thing about this was that all of these fine students were in the top 50 students of their graduating class. By chance my son and one of the young ladies started that high school the same year. (My son was home schooled 5 - 8th grade and this other student came from another school.)

Sep 9, 2013 3:27AM
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As long as the parent is not in thier childs class.

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