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Can You Escape the 'School Volunteer Vortex'?

Thank you, Volunteers

Can You Resist the Parent Volunteer Vortex?

This school year, will you be sucked into the (cue scary music) “The School Volunteer Vortex”?

On her blog Late Blooming Mom, 45-year-old working mother Holly Sklar describes her initiation into public school volunteering and the onslaught of all these Uber Volunteer Moms who are clamoring to suck her into her ranks. Two weeks into her kids’ kindergarten year, and she’s already fed up.

In a blog post highlighted on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, she writes:

I have filled out dozens of forms from the [parent booster] club, not to mention the kids’ teachers, all to do with what activities I can volunteer to be a part of, in the classroom and outside of it, ranging from re-shelving library books to driving kids to and from field trips to helping to organize and run any of the myriad of fund-raising events and activities that occur throughout the year. I’ve been told of mandatory commitments per child at the school, e.g., every family has to work one traffic safety shift, at pickup or drop-off, per child, during the year. I have been invited to no less than four volunteer events, and I’ve already missed two of those. I’ve been asked to contribute the “suggested” amount per child – and nothing that you can pay in ten installments is cheap –  because, though a public education is free, a great one is not — especially nowadays.  Every day brings more mail in the kids’ backpacks, offering additional ways to get involved.

If I get another piece of paper from the parent association, it’s quite possible my head is going to explode.

Sklar notes that, while the booster club at her kids’ school which has 43 committees is “well-meaning,” it really feels like overkill to her. “I know a good deal of this parental involvement is necessary, and at the very least, important, given the sorry state of public school funding in my home state,” she allows, adding. “At the school my kids attend, funds raised by the parent association pay for art, music, physical education, an aide in every classroom at least part of the school day, a librarian, classroom computers and other equipment and maintenance, building and grounds improvement, and even additional teachers to keep class sizes from ballooning even further than they already have.”

But, she pleads, “Please, well-meaning parent associations all over America, acknowledge this: a lot of us, moms and dads in the same household, have to work.”

As someone who is making a deliberate choice to skip a PTA meeting tonight to go have a post-bedtime drink with a dear friend I haven’t seen between soccer games and birthday parties and music and dance lessons for weeks, I understand Sklar’s impulse to play hooky on school volunteering. But I also feel like it is, in fact, our obligation to contribute to our kids’ school, and be part of the school community, in some way. (I dutifully did my year stint on the School Leadership Team, help tack up student artwork each year on Gallery Night and at least try to chaperone the occasional field trip.) If you can’t go in and stack books in the library or clip shapes out for the teacher, you can always write the PTA a check. It doesn’t have to be much, and it’ll at least it’ll cut down on the guilt.

But what do you think? Are you willing to suck it up and volunteer tons of time at your kids’ school? Do you judge parents’ who don’t? Or do you do your level best to avoid the “School Volunteer Vortex”? Do tell!

Photo: San Jose Library

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