Students, teachers benefit from room parent voluteers
For teachers, they're timesavers and helpers. For students, they provide extra attention. But for the 38 volunteers who signed up to be room parents in the Lansing School District, it's a way to be involved and spend time with their children.
Cindy Williams, room parent coordinator for the Lansing Parent-Teacher Association, said parents have four opportunities to sign up to be a room parent at the beginning of the school year. Room parents are assigned to classrooms at the elementary and intermediate schools, and their main responsibility is to plan fall, winter and spring parties, Williams said.
However, some parent volunteers don't wait for a party to help out. Russann Hankins is a room mother for Nancy Collard's first-grade class, in which her son, Jace, is a student. She also helps with accelerated math lessons in her daughter Katelynn's class. It's her first year as a room mother, but she's on the scene all day, every day, she said.
"I help out just any which way I can," Hankins said. She does it all, from making copies to working with students one-on-one.
Collard said she would nominate Hankins for room mother of the year, if there were such an award.
"I've never had anyone so dedicated," Collard said. "She's become like one of the employees here, and she's doing it out of the goodness of her heart."
Hankins said she just loves the work. After nine years of being a stay-at-home mom, she said it's nice to be around adults as well as kids. In theory, she said, she could get a part-time job, but she'd rather work at the school.
"This helps. It helps Jace," she said. She said she sees her son trying harder because she's there.
"I enjoy being up there with them and seeing what they're learning," Hankins said.
Hankins said she hoped to continue working at the school as long as she can.
Other parent volunteers share Hankins' passion for working with kids. Though most volunteers are mothers, the ranks this year include a room father, Rich Heitkamp, and a room grandmother, Jennean Reed.
Reed volunteers in the fifth-grade class of her granddaughter, Marybeth Schmidling. Reed loves working with children, and "I enjoy baking those cupcakes," she said.
Now retired, Reed said she finally has time for a gig like being a room grandmother. So far, she has helped at the fall party, and she also interviewed students before their field trip to Exchange City, she said. In December, she'll help out with the Loyal Lansingers Children's Choir performance at the Leavenworth Performing Arts Center.
"I try to keep involved," Reed said. "I think it helps the children to know somebody cares."
Heitkamp is an Army officer who said he tries to make room in his schedule to come to the school for an hour each Monday and Thursday to help in his children's classrooms. Before he started volunteering, he said he had no idea how many nights and weekends Lansing teachers put in to do extra work for their students.
"I think we're very lucky to have such dedicated teachers there," he said.
Heitkamp said working in the classroom is fun, but the teachers also appreciate the extra help.
What people should know, he said, is that they don't have to wait for an invitation to help.
"Whatever your core competency is, you can apply that to the school, and they really appreciate it," he said.
But no matter how much the teachers like the help, Heitkamp said the students make the work worthwhile. He said he finds joy in seeing his children in class.
"The ones who probably appreciate it the most are the children," he said. He can tell they enjoy his visits when they exclaim "Mr. Rich!" when he comes in, he said.
"I feel like I won the lottery or something," Heitkamp said. "I'm famous."