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Emily Lambert: How to be productively involved in your kid's school

Emily Lambert, on

Published in Home and Consumer News

You don’t want to be that parent who’s a pain in the neck

Many parents have great hopes for their children — and for their kids’ elementary school years. This is where children develop friendships, a sense of self and a lifelong love of learning.

I guess that’s why parents get involved at school. I couldn’t say, as everyone’s experience is different. What I know is that when my son started kindergarten at our neighborhood public school, I was one of those parents who, without much reflection, quickly signed up to volunteer, and within a year had run for the local school council.

Six years later, still on the council, I can’t calculate the amount of time and energy I’ve put into “school stuff.” I’ve spent hundreds of hours with other parents organizing events, attending meetings, even lobbying elected officials. A year into this, the city of Chicago tried to shut my son’s school, which sparked community organizing — and has given me perspective on how school involvement can escalate from PTA bake sales to full-time advocacy.

Volunteering has given me warm fuzzies, and some great friends, but I’ve made mistakes, too. With this in mind, and now that I’m graduating to being a middle school parent, I offer suggestions for the newbie school parent.

Why are you considering getting involved?


Before you respond to a PTA flier seeking volunteers, ask yourself: What are you hoping to achieve? Meet other parents, support your child’s teacher, make sure the school has enough Chromebooks? You don’t need to have the answers going in, but as time goes on, keep the question in mind. You want the time and energy you invest to align with your goals.

Are you a dreamer or a doer?

Lots of people have great ideas and strong opinions. Fewer have the time, energy, and dedication to see those ideas through. Yes, a bowling party would be great fun! But are you willing to organize it, or are you suggesting it so that someone else can?

Whichever category you fall into, develop an inclusive and tolerant mindset. If you like organizing, be sure to include people in different capacities, then chill out if things don’t go exactly how you wanted. If you have great ideas to share but can’t help make them happen, know that those ideas mightn’t see the light of day.


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