Editorial: Give the gift of life: Volunteer at your local school

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Every child is worthy of excellent education and care. That’s why I started volunteering at my local public school several years ago and why I still volunteer.

The joy and enrichment I’ve received from the children, teachers, administrators and parents of students are one of my most life-giving experiences. I want more people to know this same joy and enrichment. It’s easier than many think.

How I started volunteering

I began as a Watch D.O.G.S.—Dads of Great Students. The administrators wanted a positive male presence and thought I fit the bill. At the time, I was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, a small rural community that once was the overnight train stop between Fort Worth and Waco. Covington is one of those places where “everybody knows everybody,” especially if you’re the pastor of the First Baptist Church.

Many public schools have Watch D.O.G.S. Since the majority of dads work during the school day, other family members or guardians are encouraged to participate in the program.

I don’t remember how many times I volunteered during the first semester. What I do remember is it didn’t take long for me to start volunteering a full day every other Thursday. I chose Thursdays on purpose.

Thursdays were not my day off. I wanted to send a message to the church and the community that investing in our children, teachers, administrators and school was and is a vital part of my ministry and, by extension, the ministry of the church.

What volunteering looks like for me

I went through the full background check and screening process. I was entered into the system and given a badge each time I was on campus that identified me as a volunteer.

We learned quickly to be intentional about my time on campus. The elementary assistant principal gave me a schedule based on what teachers needed. From the time I dropped off my children until the school day was over, I went from class to class helping teachers do what they needed done. One teacher had a penchant for saving messy art and science projects for the day I volunteered. I didn’t mind … too much.

In our community, children often lived with extended family, and children just as often moved in and out of the district. A first-grade boy moved from Oregon, where he lived with his father. After moving to Covington, his father died, and the boy was distraught. Each Thursday, when it was my time to be in the first-grade classroom, my assignment was to be with him. When the rest of the class went to P.E., all he wanted to do was read to me. So, we sat in the classroom while he read Plants vs. Zombies to me. He was an excellent reader, emphasis on excellent.

Many students needed help reading, dealing with anger, understanding math, grieving the death of a family member—you know, basic things. Other students needed specialized attention due to learning or sensory challenges such as autism. Younger students needed help opening milk and juice cartons.

Volunteering one place can lead you to another

In addition to helping students achieve their Accelerated Reading goals, prepare for math tests and write essays, I invested almost as much time in their teachers and administrators. The adults needed regular encouragement because education is difficult. We often talked about spiritual things—more specifically, Jesus.

Eventually, I was asked to serve on the Student Health Advisory Committee and the District Educational Improvement Committee. I was honored by and welcomed these opportunities. Any way I could care for the children of our community, their families and their teachers, I wanted to do it.

Volunteering gets in your blood

We don’t live in Covington anymore. We gave up the not-as-quiet-as-many-think countryside for the constant noise and movement of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Though we live in a different place, we still have local schools, and I still volunteer in one.

Every other Friday, I go to an elementary school in our district and spend a few hours with children and their teachers during lunch and recess. I serve as a mentor for the older students. I still open milk and juice cartons for the younger children.

Why volunteering in your local school matters

And though I’m just getting to know the students and teachers where we live now, I already have a sense of responsibility for them. See, some of them live on my street. Some of them attend my church. We eat at the same restaurants—just last night, in fact—and shop at the same stores.

In short, we live life together.

The time I give to students, teachers and administrators in my local school is tied directly to our shared life. Investing in one of our local schools affects the whole of our shared life.

But there’s more. The time I give to students, teachers and administrators—and the time you can give to those in your local school—is deeply informed by the belief that each and every student, teacher and administrator is created by and in the image of God, the very same God who came to be with us in Jesus—Immanuel, God with us.

I started volunteering in my local public school because every child is worthy of excellent education and care, and I wanted to do my part to make that happen. Now, I can’t imagine not volunteering.

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If you are not already giving time to a local school, it’s easy to start. Schools often wish they had more volunteers. Contact the principal, communicate your interest in serving the school, ask what is needed and work together with the administration to determine where and how you can benefit your local school using the gifts God has given you.

Most of all, be open to ways God can and will use you in your local school that you never would have imagined.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP.

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