Volunteer help still welcome, but looks different in schools during pandemicSep 30, 2020 01:50PM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Foothills Elementary Principal Cherie Wilson says in a typical year, parents, grandparents, retired teachers and volunteers give students about 200 hours of their time monthly.
This fall, however, volunteerism is looking different during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We welcome our parents, but we’re following the state guidelines to reduce congestion, so our volunteers can come in for a limited basis and with a clear purpose,” she said. “We welcome our volunteers as they are vital; they are valued and important.”
That means, Wilson said, that all volunteers need to coordinate with the school for times to come in and are helping in the classroom when the aides aren’t there. No students or volunteers are allowed in the hallway and they will be working with students on an individual or small group basis on math or literacy skills instead of helping with classroom parties.
Volunteers may work from their homes on preparations for parties, cut out items for bulletin boards or game pieces for centers, but those will be disinfected and isolated for a time before being used, Wilson said.
Volunteers aren’t needed for field trips and assemblies as they are canceled at least through 2020, she added.
“Our parents are finding new ways to help. We had some moms help the first day outside with the traffic flow, making sure our 850 in-person learners were socially distanced and the cars moved along,” she said. “We’ve had one parent come in the first week, but most are waiting. Our PTA, which usually is in the building, are preparing items at home and are in contact over Zoom.”
At another Jordan School District elementary, Jordan Ridge, Principal Melissa Beck said that her parents are finding other ways to volunteer.
“It’s forcing us to be creative as we have to limit our volunteers,” Beck said. “We held our back-to-school night over Zoom and our parents love it and want to keep it that way. We’ve added more classroom technicians to support teachers with small groups and individuals with legislative funding, but we’re still having parent volunteers cut laminated materials and are finding ways to put together class parties while at home. Creativity drives progress and innovation comes out of that progress.”
In Jordan District, 6,000 to 7,000 people are fingerprinted and have been background-check approved as volunteers so once the guidelines are eased, there may be more help welcomed in schools, said district spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf.
Murray PTA Region 19 Director and Hillcrest Junior High PTA president Jeannette Bowen said that usually PTA members are busy now with activities, but this year, many events, such as fun runs and carnivals are postponed, following the guidelines with COVID-19. Instead, membership drives and sanitization donation drives are being held virtually.
“We’re working closely with the principals to see what is needed,” she said. “If PTAs meet in person, our volunteers are temperature checked and sign in, to minimize the number of people in the schools for the students’ safety. Most PTAs are meeting virtually and are focusing on creative ways to show teacher and staff appreciation right out of the gate. We want to stand behind them and show our appreciation.”
Bowen said that many volunteers are checking with teachers to support them from home, however they can, but keeping in mind that the safety of the district’s 6,300 school children is the No. 1 priority.
“We want to help lighten the load of teachers and staff and we hope they know we are ready and willing when they need us,” she said, adding that volunteers provided 22,000 hours of help last year.
Canyons District Public Engagement Coordinator Susan Edwards said that nearly 12,000 volunteers helped in Canyons schools last year, providing 93,564 hours of assistance.
“In a normal year, the largest volunteer events are usually field days, field trips, and class parties, however, last year, the largest number of individual volunteer hours were given in assisting students with reading, math and projects,” she said. “Our PTA volunteer leadership gave hundreds of hours to helping their schools and bring the spirit and fun into each school.”
However, this year, Canyons, like other districts, has limited the number of volunteers entering the school buildings.
“We felt like it was important to not add additional non-essential adults to the building until routines were solidly in place and we see how the first couple of weeks go. Then, we will add back in integral volunteers. This will look different school by school. Some schools have volunteers as reading or math aides, some are helping with preparing materials for classroom use, some assist with lunch and, of course, every school has PTA leadership that help with many programs in the school, including Red Ribbon Week, teacher appreciation, Reflections national art program and more,” Edwards said.
Before those programs are in place, she said that Canyons Region 17 PTA will be assessing their meeting situations and will be doing so online if social distance guidelines cannot be met and/or if the members of each group choose.
“Ultimately, the principals in consultation with their School Community Councils, PTA and staff decide what this will look like in their school. If they have a need that volunteers can help with then they will reach out to their parents and community members who have registered to volunteer at their school,” she said. “As schools find needs that volunteers can help with, each registered volunteer will first do a health check at the front office which will include temperature check and health questions. After which, as usual, they will sign into the volunteer kiosk to assure they are a cleared volunteer.”
In Granite School District, volunteering this fall will require more restrictions with respect to how they interact with one another, there still are needs for help in the schools, said spokesman Ben Horsley.
He suggests that those wanting to volunteer should contact the school to see what needs they have and how to register to help.
“Some schools have more needs than others,” he said. “We love our volunteers and still need them more than ever.”