My Two Cents: Do good, meet friends, have fun — Support local schools

File photo courtesy of the Hyattsville Life & Times.

By BART LAWRENCE — Summer is over, and you may find yourself with an abundance of free time, staring at the kitchen walls and wondering what to do with yourself. Okay, that might not be true, but you might wonder how you can get involved in the community, how you can meet neighbors, and how you can help. There’s no better way to do this than to support and volunteer for our local Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

There are a variety of ways to volunteer with the schools. There are the traditional opportunities, such as chaperoning field trips and volunteering in the classroom, and then there are less traditional opportunities. In March, elementary schools participate in National Education Association (NEA)’s Read Across America Day (Dr. Seuss Day), inviting volunteers to read their favorite children’s books to students. All schools participate in career day in the spring, when volunteers from city staff, local businesses, and the community share information about their careers with the students. Each year, schools seek participants from a variety of fields — musicians, mechanics, architects, historians, asphalt freaks, poets, plumbers, and pilots.

Some volunteer opportunities span the entire school year, others are annual, one-time events. At Hyattsville Elementary School (HES), for example, Barbara Morris (HES grandparent) organizes volunteers all year long to help check books in and out of the school library and keep the well-used library in order. People can also participate in the county’s Clean Up, Green Up event on Oct. 29 by joining Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) volunteers in planting trees on public property.

To ensure the safety and security of students, PGCPS does require, in most cases, volunteers to undergo a security check, ranging from a commercial background check at the cost of $7 ($7.26 online) to a fingerprint background check at a cost of $59.32. For more information on security, visit the PGCPS Security Services webpage at www1.pgcps.org/security. To learn more about how you can volunteer at a specific school and the level of security check required, reach out to your neighborhood school. Visit www1.pgcps.org/schools/ for contact information for such schools as Edward Felegy, Rosa L. Parks, Hyattsville, and University Park (UPES) Elementary Schools; Hyattsville and Nicholas Orem Middle Schools; and Northwestern High School.

Volunteerism and support come in many shapes and sizes. If you work in the science, technology, engineering, arts, or math fields, you can help students understand how those careers connect to their everyday lives. Consider whether your employer or business can sponsor and event, after-school club, or field trip. Maybe an in-kind donation of goods or services is best for you. Connecting schools and teachers with grants and other resources can be enormously beneficial. Consider how you can support our schools in other nontraditional ways.

Volunteering isn’t the only way to support the schools. Volunteer organizations raise funds to support art, science, and after-school programming. HES-PTA is holding its first ever Hyattsville Zombie Run on Oct. 1. This, of course, is a new addition to the local running scene, with UPES-PTA’s long-running and beloved Azalea Classic occurring each spring. This spring, HES-PTA will hold its Eighth Annual Native Plant Sale. Proceeds from these and other volunteer-led events support the development of all students, and these events are often opportunities for volunteering.  

These fundraising and volunteer opportunities yield enriching, real-world results, and help to fill important gaps in these times of limited public funding. Through field trips and speakers, students are exposed to new ideas and information. With the planting of more than 30 trees at HMS, students learn the value of the environment and community. Funds from the Native Plant Sale have purchased a kiln and musical instruments for the classroom — expanding arts education. Funding also goes toward things such as teacher appreciation luncheons and staff training. All of these resources and experiences help to shape the life-long learners we want our students to be.

If you seek other volunteer opportunities, reach out to Colleen Aistis, Volunteer Services manager with the City of Hyattsville’s Office of Volunteer Services. This office works to connect individuals and groups with volunteer opportunities throughout the city. Ms. Aistis can be reached at 301.985.5057 or visit www.hyattsville.org/114/Volunteer-Services.

The writer is City of Hyattsville Councilmember Bart Lawrence, Ward One. He also serves as vice council president and chair of the city’s Education Advisory Committee.