By Curt Yeomans
Robin Johnson began volunteering in Clayton County schools four years ago, when her daughter, Haley, was in a pre-school, Head Start program in Forest Park.
Haley was 3 at the time, and didn't want to stay in her class. Her mother decided to come in for a few hours every day, so her daughter would feel more comfortable in a school setting.
As it turned out, Robin Johnson enjoyed volunteering in the schools and eventually settled into the job of being a parent volunteer for first graders at Hawthorne Elementary School. Haley is a second grader at Hawthorne. Johnson's son, Cody, is in kindergarten.
Johnson now spends the entire school day helping Karen Rogers teach reading skills to a class of 20 first graders.
"I just love watching the children learn," Johnson said. "It's great to see the expression on their faces when they finally get what you are trying to teach them."
Clayton County Public Schools hopes to win the attention of others like Johnson during the observance of October as Volunteer Recruitment Month. The system is focusing on getting more parents to volunteer in its 59 schools.
Parents are being asked to volunteer a minimum of five hours throughout the school year. The goal is to get a 25 percent increase in the number of volunteers.
The school system is sending letters to parents, asking them to participate in the Parents as Partners (PAP) initiative. It is being conducted in conjunction with an initiative designed to get a five-percent increase in the number of businesses participating in the Adopt-A-School program.
"I think volunteers provide another form of telling the students that they are doing a good job," said Rhonda Burnough, coordinator for the PAP initiative. "They serve as motivators, not just for the students, but for the teachers as well. The teachers sometimes need someone telling them 'You're doing a good job. I can see the students making progress.' "
Terri Williams, the coordinator of Hawthorne's parent volunteers, said the school averages between 100 and 200 volunteers every year. There are 939 students at the school. She said volunteer forms are sent home with children at the beginning of the school year. The parents can sign the form and send it back, if they want to be a volunteer.
The parent then receives a phone call from the school where administrators gather more information about what kind of work he or she wants to do. The parent is also asked to pick the grade level with which he or she wants to work.
"[Volunteers] are extremely important to the educational mission of the school," Williams said. "They provide that extra one-on-one attention for each student."
Karen Rogers agreed, adding that Robin Johnson's presence in her classroom makes it possible to break the class into small groups. Johnson may read to one group of children, or work on sight words with individual students. Rogers can work with another group on charts and graphs at the same time.
"It's a big help," Rogers said. "You're able to get a lot more done with the students, and they really look forward to having [Johnson] in the classroom every day."