Getting Involved in Your Child's Junior High
About three decades ago, I was a proud preschool student. I created art that my mother proudly displayed on the refrigerator. ABCs and 123s began to have meaning and a purpose. I traded in the playground tricycle for a two-wheeler with training wheels because I saw my friends take that "big" step in their lives.
These are fond memories. But the fondest memories of my preschool days are the ones in which my mother helped out in my class. I went to a cooperative preschool where the parents were required to assist in class on a rotating schedule. Watching my mother across the room as she prepared the easels for an upcoming painting session was as exciting to me as a day at Disneyland. Nothing in life made me happier.
As the years progressed, my mother continued to play an active role in my school life. No longer required to help out once I began elementary school, she volunteered her time with love and a true desire to be a part of my education outside the home. When I started junior high, there was no longer a need for my mother to prepare easels for painting sessions. However, she volunteered for other projects consistent with the changing needs of my school curriculum. I look back on these wonderful memories now while I stand on the other side of the school yard, knowing that parent participation in the school system makes the school years extra special for children.
Not in Front of my Friends!
My two oldest daughters attend school and I can attest to the fact that as children advance through the school system, parent participation decreases. Several parents of primary grade students volunteer for the position of "room parent." But by sixth grade, teachers are hoping that a parent – any parent – will volunteer. I've seen heads turn and many a gaze shift downward on back-to-school night when a teacher announces an opening for the position of volunteer room parent.
Part of the reason that parent volunteerism decreases over the years may be due to children developing a need for independence. When I was a first-grade room mom, my daughter used to smile and wave to me during class as I filled glue bottles. She sat on my lap during story time and begged me to stay for lunch. When this same child was in sixth grade, she would wave to me once from a distance across the hallway and continue her conversation with friends.
Cindy Phiffer is the mother of a junior high student in Murfreesboro, Tenn. "My son went through a time of trying to keep me away from his school when he went into the seventh grade," she says. "He told me that other parents could handle things and it really made him nervous that other kids would make fun of me."
Cindy listened to him at first, afraid that she would cause him to be ridiculed at a time when being different is generally unacceptable to other kids. When she was asked to help at school with a magazine sale, her son said that would be fine. What Cindy saw while at school was her son in a room full of other kids who looked and acted remarkably awkward. Their self-consciousness was nearly strong enough to taste.
"I knew that they were caught in the space between elementary and high school, childhood and adulthood, today and tomorrow," Cindy says.
A Glimpse of Life at School
Deanne from Long Beach, Calif. is the mother of three daughters. Her eighth grader will be graduating from junior high this year. Deanne is an active parent volunteer, although most of her current duties are within the school but outside of the classroom.
Deanne and some other parents of eighth graders are currently working on the upcoming eighth grade graduation ceremony. "We have a video production crew, a decoration committee and a dinner committee, each with a chairperson," Deanne says. "Being active in my daughter's school gives me the comfort level of knowing what the kids are up to. Also, it's nice to know the parents of the kids that my kids hang out with."
Deanne says that she has developed wonderful friendships with the other parents volunteers at the private junior high her daughter attends.
Cindy also found volunteer work to do outside her son's classes. She scheduled parents to bring food for a teacher appreciation lunch and helped serve at another teachers' lunch.
"Remaining involved in my son's school life has resulted in better communications between his teachers and me, but more importantly it has brought me closer to my son by allowing me to glimpse his world," Cindy says.
The Volunteer Job Roster
Jean Manrique teaches Spanish at a junior high school in St. Paul, Minn. She notices a high level of parent interest and involvement at the school where she teaches. "There are parents wanting to be involved whom have not yet been called," Manrique says.
Manrique recommends several tasks for parents who want to get involved in their child's school. These tasks include individual tutoring in the classroom, participating in an event-planning committee, helping in the school office (if possible) and assisting teachers with some of their busy work. Teachers often need help with photocopying, recording papers and creating materials such as flashcards or other things needed for projects. Chaperones are often needed for events and field trips, too.
Manrique says she feels that some students may act like they would rather not see their parents at school because "it isn't cool to have your parents there." However, Manrique says "I think deep down they are glad that their parents are involved and care."