What I learned from a day as an elementary school volunteer

Dads and Dad-type figures are welcome in schools

You can make a difference in a kid’s life. Yesterday, I learned that kids will give you high fives when you walk down the corridors of their school. They will enthusiastically participate in a gym relay and try to show you how great their reading is and how they can follow the music teacher’s instructions. And they are all happy to see a Dad (or Dad-type figure) in their classroom.

I wanted to get more involved in my kids’ school, so when my friend told me about the Watch D.O.G.S. program (Dads of Great Students), I volunteered to spend a day as a volunteer at East Ridge Elementary school.

Here’s a story on Watch D.O.G.S. that ran on the Today Show earlier this year:

What’s involved in being a volunteer?

First, it’s different than being a parent. Although you are there to support your kids’ school, you are there first and foremost to help out where helping is needed. I tutored in reading and writing, helped out with music and gym class, and also pitched in on the playground. Like being in a startup, being a volunteer requires patience, enthusiasm, ingenuity and resilience. No one is going to tell you exactly what to do, even when they give you suggestions for where to be as part of a schedule.

It’s up to you to make volunteering a great experience. That includes being present (put that phone away), doing whatever is asked of you, saying hello to the kids, teachers, and administrators around you, and generally having a good time.

Volunteer Support starts with a structured program

Second, being a volunteer is a lot easier when you have some structure. There’s a process involved in being a volunteer at the Northshore School District – it’s not onerous, just a set of common sense rules – and the team makes it easy for you to complete these requirements and know more about the proper way to give back to the school. The Watch D.O.G.S. program is working at East Ridge because before the volunteer shows up the leadership team at the school has asked the teachers what help they might need that day. The school administrator has paired the volunteer with a specialty teacher (Music, PE, or Library) if there’s no specific need. And there is always recess, where you can talk to kids, play a game, or just be a presence.

What if I don’t know what to do?

Third, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do. The kids are happy and excited to have a Dad or Dad-type figure on campus. The teachers are happy to have extra help. And you should be happy by taking a more active role in a school in your community. (I’m especially grateful to be supported in this effort by the Salesforce Foundation, which made it possible for me to spend my day as a Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer. Thanks, Watch D.O.G.S.!


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