While B.J. Ward has benefited from excellent volunteers in recent years, the Bolingbrook Elementary School has taken volunteering to new heights with a Parent Volunteer Team program that was launched this year.
“It’s important to get parents into the building,” said Assistant Principal Susan Padilla. “It’s helped change the culture in our building.”
Originally launched as Helping Hands a few years ago, the program encouraged parents to do simple tasks like collating paperwork, listening to kids read or helping in the library. But, with parent participation lower than they had hoped for, Padilla and Principal Ted Warpinski decided to take a parent survey.
“We didn’t know if they weren’t coming in because they were too busy or if they were intimidated or what,” Padilla said.
What they found out was many parents wanted to help but felt they needed some training first.
So Ward administrators made some changes.
“We’re more concerned about their heart than we are their skills,” Padilla said. “If you love students, you can never go wrong. Everyone has some talent. We just needed to find a way to let them shine.”
These days, members of Ward’s Parent Volunteer Team must fill out some paperwork which Padilla uses to determine their interests and their comfort levels.
“Some of them want to be in a classroom. Some of them don’t want to do anything near a classroom because they’re intimidated,” Padilla said. “Most of them want to be able to come and go whenever they have time and don’t want a high level of responsibility because they get nervous. That’s OK. We understand.”
One of the newest responsibilities of the Parent Volunteer Team is patrolling the hallways.
“We always want to make sure we keep our students as safe as possible,” Padilla said. “They do perimeter checks around the building to make sure all the locks are engaged and they walk around the hallways making sure we don’t have any students walking the hallways alone.”
Padilla calls the emphasis on making parent volunteers more comfortable at B.J. Ward “a little step. But it’s the right step.” The faculty and staff have welcomed the help with open arms. And the students love to see their own parents and parents of friends helping out in their school.
Ward administrators are hopeful more parents will sign up to help for the remainder of this year. In fact, Padilla dreams of having two or three parent volunteers from each grade level in the building as often as possible next year.
“We need to focus on building the Ward community,” Padilla said. “Maintaining that wonderful connection between home and school is so important.”