This is a guest blog by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan, who has a daughter in 4th grade here at Santa Fe Waldorf School. "Notes from a Parent" will be a reoccurring column here throughout the school year.
Poof! As I write this, weeks have already passed by and the volunteer needs of all the activities and extracurricular programs that make the Santa Fe Waldorf School—or any Waldorf school for that matter—a vibrant place have come to the fore. Sports, field trips, the garden, festivals and holiday activities have begun the drumbeat of asking for parent volunteers.
So much happens inside a Waldorf classroom: music, art, movement and academics, but outside the classroom there is a great fabric that is woven together by parent volunteers that expands the life of the school beyond the work of teachers tasked with educating our students.
Parent volunteers help make everything outside the classroom possible. There is often so much parent contribution on this Waldorf campus that it gets hard to distinguish where tuition dollars end and parent volunteerism begins even in things that are not imagined as volunteering. For example, a parent donation of plants that are then planted at the school by the donating parent offers a hidden view of seeing the “school life” of their child: the laughing and joking in private games with their friends as they all swing on the monkey bars. That donation and volunteer time impacts the beauty of the school and becomes a special little moment of being the proverbial fly on the wall—an invisible moment that can be so rare as a parent.
Finding a place as a parent volunteer can be an overwhelming process, but finding opportunities to connect with one’s child even though they are in school is well worth the effort. When a child sees their parents participating in school activities—or on campus doing anything that contributes to the school—it validates their school experience. Savoring the unadulterated love from students while volunteering for anything is addictive.
With my daughter’s second year at the Santa Fe Waldorf school, I have found it easier to see where I might fit. Last year, I was the class parent for 3rd grade. It was overwhelming, but the task really did connect me to everyone. This year finds me volunteering in the SFWS Library supporting Sally Gundrey, the Volunteer Library Coordinator by writing emails to inform the community about the “goings on” of the library. The school library like so many other things on campus is a completely run by parent volunteers. Also, every third week I get to enjoy 4th graders independently exploring the library. My favorite part is listening to the cacophony of all the kids’ voices echoing in the hall from each of the different classrooms. Even as I am writing this, I can hear Mr. Wollheim off in the field with my daughter’s class leading a game. Listening to them play is a little gem I get to keep with all my other favorite memories.
The best way to find one’s own personal spot is to observe parents on campus doing something of interest and then consider one’s skills and ask to contribute in an area that could use those skills. The Friday Coffee Hour in the new patio behind the pick-up shelter is a great place to network about volunteer opportunities.
I believe supporting a class or school activity can feed a parent’s heart like nothing else. And volunteering can be FUN! Yes, I did just say FUN (in all caps). It’s fun to connect with other parents, make friends, kvetch about kids and the craziness of parenting. Volunteering can help create life-long friendships with folks who have shared values. And while it can be very hard to volunteer as a working parent it is possible to find little moments that can fit into any schedule to nourish even the busiest heart.
So while the start of the school year may evoke for some the oft-dreaded call to volunteer, it is worth considering a reframing of the task. Instead of giving one’s time to the school, maybe it could be better stated as an opportunity to create memories that all too quickly will vanish as kids move out into the world beyond our view. Seeing my daughter with her classmates in the library—as they peruse books and discuss what they like—is a snapshot of this moment in her life that I wouldn’t know if I weren’t here volunteering. How lucky am I and how great is that?