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We're the Volunteers of America

October 26, 2010 - Erin O'Neill
As a parent who is new to the school system this year but one who is heavily invested in my child's well-being, education and happiness, it was pretty much a given that I would sign up to volunteer.

There were a couple reason why I wanted to sign up: 1. It is very important to me to have an open working relationship with the people who spend eight hours a day with my child. 2. I believe that children need to see a positive influence from within their community. There are many parents who won't or can't volunteer for whatever reason and it is important to me that children understand that adults do care about their school and do want to spend time with them and believe that education is important. 3. I believe I have some things to share - some talents, some strengths and a real love of children. 4. I wanted to enrich my own life by reaping the benefits of volunteering.

I choose to believe that everyone who volunteers has similar reasons. Could there be those who have ulterior motives? I suppose but I highly doubt it. Most of us are in it to have an impact, to pitch in and lend a hand so our kids can have the best educational experience possible. I tend to believe that the boogey man probably wouldn't go so far as to fill out forms and submit character references, as is the requirement for all new volunteers. But stranger things have happened, so I'm glad the board of education chooses to err on the side of caution.

HOWEVER, even though I have filled out, paid for and turned in my background check, which is now required of all volunteers, I understand where the frustration with this decision comes from.

• $30 might not seem like a lot to some people but for others, yours truly included, it's just one more reason to pinch pennies. A little here for this school thing, some more here for that extracurricular activity ... it really adds up.

• I don't remember being asked how I felt about this idea, although I probably would have agreed to go ahead. It would just be nice to have a say in such matters and to weigh other options. But I suppose that's why we elect our school board members, because we feel they have our best interests in mind...

• The background check includes looking into past employment and credit history as well as criminal records. When I read this part on the form, I immediately thought it was a major violation of privacy. What does someone's credit score have to do with how good of a volunteer they would be?

• The most frustrating aspect of requiring background checks of every volunteer is that the numbers of parents willing or able to do this will most definitely drop simply because of the principle. Yes, it's all about the safety of the kids but in the end, the kids still lose.

I don't disagree that the school board is doing what they feel is right but I don't think the repercussions of this move were clearly thought out.

I've done my part because it is extremely important to me to be an active participant in my child's educational experience but I only hope that other parents will see fit to do the same. If not, our children are the ones who will ultimately suffer and that's not OK with me.


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