As the final bell rang, students and teachers lined the halls outside their classrooms. They clapped for the graduating fifth-grade class on their final walk out of elementary school. As my youngest son waved goodbye, he closed the door on this sweet phase of life.
That morning I carried a tattered box into a packed closet in that school for the last time. I stood on a chair and shifted it onto a crowded shelf as I had many times before in the past 10 years. I slowly walked down the decorated halls soaking in every bright bulletin board and colorful piece of artwork. I said tearful goodbyes before pulling out of the parking lot with a lump in my throat.
This wasn’t just the end of a chapter for him, but for me too. This was not just his school community, it unexpectedly became mine.
To the kindergarten moms walking in this fall, I offer two words of advice: sign up.
Immerse yourself in this sacred time because it is fleeting and extraordinarily special.
A volunteer form will come home in that shiny new backpack. Sign up. Do it for your child. Do it for the place that will help them grow leaps and bounds. Do it for yourself. I promise what you put in will not compare to what you get back.
Work full time? Count box tops on weekends. Decorate for the family dance on a Friday night. Bake brownies for the teacher luncheon. Plan games for the Halloween party. Clean up after bingo night. A lot can be done as your schedule permits, and your children can be involved to share in the experience. One of my son’s favorite memories was when we went shopping together to bring Kit Kats and Kool-Aid in for the ABC Countdown “K” day class party. It didn’t cost a lot of time or money and was one less thing on the teacher’s list.
There is currently a serious volunteer shortage. Our spring fair, a critical fundraiser and special way for families to celebrate the end of the school year, almost didn’t happen this year. When I saw how much my son enjoyed it, I was so grateful it did.
Donating your time is investing in your child.
Fundraisers that you can help organize support the place where they spend most of their time nine months a year. The money raised pays for assemblies with important messages and culture that will broaden their horizons. It supports teachers with classroom needs. It funds special activities that will enrich the school experience for your child.
Behind those brick walls, magic happens. They go in little and come out big. Reading, spelling, and math skills explode. Critical social and emotional skills develop. Volunteering as a lunch aid, classroom helper, or room parent gives you a front-row seat.
Most duties allow you to get to know the faculty and staff as people not employees. That perspective helped me not rush to judgment if we encountered a difficult situation. Instead, I approached it with empathy, and I think I received the same in return.
My first year, I ran a classroom raffle basket fundraiser. That morning I swore I would never do it again. But when I saw how excited the children were and the funds raised, I changed my mind. I recruited a committee to share the duties. The work became fun.
Saying yes doesn’t mean you can’t say no.
After serving on the HSA board, I knew a second term wasn’t what was best for my family. You can be involved but still set limits. And you can lose the guilt to be Pinterest-worthy or show up for everything.
A favorite memory was when my son and I made “Grinch grapes” for a holiday party I couldn’t attend. We watched the movie as we filled clear cups with green grapes and drew faces on them. It was a small contribution that helped lessen the load for the room parent.
Raising a family is overwhelming. When I first pulled that form out of a colorful oversized backpack my first instinct was to toss it. As I reflect on the past 10 years, I think back to the fellow volunteers who are now friends, the faculty and staff I’ve been blessed to know, and the memories of working with my child for a greater cause. It wasn’t a duty but a privilege to be ingrained in this school community.
Years from now, when I drive by that sacred brick building, I’ll think back to the magic that happens inside and how lucky I was to be a small part of it. And, I’ll be grateful for one small but significant choice that I made. I signed up.