Mrs Susan Tan, an active volunteer with the Parent Support Group at St Margaret's Secondary School, with her daughter, Rini, and husband, David.
It was simple gratitude that led Mrs Susan Tan to join the Parent Support Group (PSG) at St Margaret's Secondary School when her daughter, Rini, was in Secondary 2.
"My daughter has dyslexia, but the school never gave up on her even though she was failing or barely passing subjects," shared Mrs Tan. "Without this support, Rini would never have done so well for her 'O' levels last year with eight points for five subjects."
Rini had already graduated from secondary school in 2010, but Mrs Tan is still a regular face at the school, where she continues to volunteer as a PSG alumni member. "It's more than just showing my heartfelt appreciation," she explained. "I've also realised that when parents work closely together with the school, these collaborations bring about so many benefits to the students."
Parents' turn to show and tell
For the past few years, Mrs Tan has been involved in organising two major annual school events for St Margaret's Secondary - Health Week in April and Racial Harmony Day in July. Usually, putting together such occasions involve a few months of planning and preparation, including regular meetings with fellow organisers and a search for external partners.
Mrs Tan arranged for people from a mushroom farm to do cooking demonstrations for Health Week.
But this year, Mrs Tan was able to do all that and top it off by making Health Week a feast of wholesome food for the students. Thanks to a selection of suitable vendors, the school presented a range of vegetables, nuts, fruits and yoghurt that showed how tasty healthy snacks can be. There were even cooking demonstrations by the staff of a local mushroom farm. "The girls developed a better appreciation for vegetables and were surprised by how good the mushroom dishes tasted!" recalled Mrs Tan happily.
Mrs Tan particularly enjoyed preparing for this year's Racial Harmony Day. The theme was 'Heritage', so she worked closely with teachers and alumni to source for artefacts to be displayed in a temporary museum. Apart from photographs of old Singapore and vintage fashion items, the team was even able to borrow an antique ironing set and archaic typewriter. "The girls had never seen many of the things before, and it was very meaningful for the parent volunteers to be part of this, because we could share our personal memories while taking the students through the museum," shared Mrs Tan.
Supporting teachers and fellow parents
While not every member of the PSG at St Margaret's Secondary can be as active as Mrs Tan, the 420 or so parent volunteers have found their own ways and levels of commitment to help enrich the educational experience of the students. Some chip in to teach the girls a foreign language or craftwork, while others serve in the library or help the school staff with administrative tasks.
In recent years, Mrs Tan has noticed that parent volunteers are starting to become more proactive. "When I first joined the PSG, it was the school that would tell us what they needed support in," she recalled. "These days, I see parents making suggestions on what they can do to help the school."
A parent volunteer taking students through a vintage artefact display as part of Racial Harmony Day celebrations.
On her part, Mrs Tan came up with a series of programmes to help teachers. For instance, since last year, a group of parents would go to the school every Thursday afternoon to help invigilate common tests. "We know how busy teachers can be so I thought it was a good idea to give them more time to rest or do other things," explained Mrs Tan. "At the same time, we would provide feedback on student behaviour and classroom cleanliness, something which the principal found very useful and took action on."
Another programme introduced by Mrs Tan is a Care to Share support group for parents who have children with learning difficulties. "I set up this group to provide a supportive and accepting environment for parents to share their challenges," she stated. "This is something very close to my heart as I wish I had that kind of support when Rini was still in this school."
Mrs Tan (2nd from right) has made many good friends from the PSG and enjoys the camaraderie involved in activities such as setting up an Easter sale booth (pictured here).
As part of this effort, Mrs Tan has invited counsellors to speak to the group and organised workshops to help parents coach their children in their studies. She also put together a small library of books on relevant topics such as dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Next year, Mrs Tan is hoping to set up a similar support group for teachers so they will be better equipped to help such students.
What advice does Mrs Tan have for parents who are thinking of volunteering at their children's schools? "It should be a sincere effort to help the school," she stressed. "You should not join a parent support group with the expectation that your child will be able to get special treatment. When you volunteer, it is about helping all the students, and not just your own child."