Last week, I spent the day at my son’s elementary school. I had originally scheduled it for a few weeks ago, but it snowed in Virginia, which generally results in everything being closed. That’s what happened and I needed to reschedule. There is a program within our county schools called the Watch D.O.G.S. program that allows fathers to come and spend the day volunteering at their child’s school. I had heard great things about it and really wanted to be a part of it, plus, my son had been waiting since November for me to finally be at his school.
I grew up in Connecticut, not too far from Newtown, so I was certainly entering into my day at the school with some new insights and with a much more heightened sense of security. Every time I was stopped and asked who I was, I rejoiced inside for the vigilance of the teachers. When I worked in engineering, I used to joke that you could go onto any job sight with a hardhat and a mission. As long as you looked like you belonged and might have some clue what you were doing, no one would ever stop you. Thankfully, that wasn’t the way that it was at the school.
There were some other things that I observed that day that I want to share. The first is the importance of the attitude in volunteering. Having spoken to missionaries for years, I was aware of many horror stories from the mission field of missionaries who had been sent short-term teams who ended up making more work for the missionaries. Although these teams had come to “help” the missionaries, it seemed as if they were just glorified sightseers coming under the guise of missions. With that in mind, I did not want to come to the school with that same mentality, I had come to help, not to hinder what was already going on at the school.
I was encouraged throughout the day to hear comments from teachers that the Watch D.O.G.S. program was very helpful and beneficial. I already knew how much the kids loved it, especially mine, but I needed to hear those comments from teachers that the program was a benefit to them. For the good part of the day, I worked with the art teacher. Being a musician and having a brother who is an architect, I understand the benefits of the fine arts in school. My brother and I were incredibly blessed to have had the opportunities that we did within the fine arts and they are near and dear to my heart. The art teacher at my son’s school has to travel once a week to another school, not something uncommon for fine arts teachers, even back in the day when I was in school. It seems like the first place to get cut when there are budget issues is the fine arts programs, so I was glad to help this teacher with things that she would have to be doing eventually had I not helped. It made me fully appreciate the need for parents to be volunteering within their children’s schools.
The church where I serve has more of a community or neighborhood feel to it. People don’t travel from an excessive distance away to come but are mostly within neighborhoods not too far from the church. During my time at the school, I saw dozens of kids that I knew from my neighborhood and from church. There has been a lot of talk about being “missional” within church circles, as I spent time at my son’s school, I realized that this was the essence of missionality within my community. Part of reaching out to people is loving them and caring for their needs. If I really want to reach out to my community, I need to start by knowing who they are first.
My mom worked in the school where my brother and I went for a number of years, first as a volunteer and then as a teacher’s aide. She went on to work at another school in our town and worked for over 20 years within the school system. She would always tell us stories of the children and teachers that she worked with. I don’t think I fully appreciated what she did until the day that I volunteered at the school, somewhat appropriate since the day I volunteered was a memorable day for me as it relates to my mom. I also saw a glimpse of what teachers do, the often thankless job of shaping young minds for the future is one that is a calling and occupation rather than a job. I still struggle with the fact that people with the most important jobs get paid the most insignificant amounts and vice versa.
I actually experienced one of the greatest joys of that day many days later. My son and I were sitting at the kitchen table and he was remarking about me helping the principal with the announcements on the day that I served. He said to me, “When I heard your voice, I just couldn’t stop smiling because I was so happy it was you and that you were there.” Can I think of any better repayment to have made a difference in my son’s life? Probably not, but I look forward to having the opportunity to serve again, helping teachers out, not being a hindrance, and finding out more about my community every time.