At Temasek Primary School, Parent volunteers have been helming the very well-received SPARK and VOICE initiatives since 2002.
Pupils at Temasek Primary School can be forgiven for thinking that some of their moms and dads have a second job with their school. Not only do these parents teach in classes and organise school functions, they provide both the brains and brawn that drive signature school events such as "Project Green Earth; Colours of Life", which celebrates racial harmony; and "Temasek MagicLand", a biennial festival in which the entire school is transformed into a vibrant experiential learning hub.
"Both my girls are proud to see their mother actively involved in school activities," said Mdm June Tan. Having volunteered over six years, Mdm Tan's daughters are now in Primary 5 and Pri 3. Another parent, Mr Mark Otega, began volunteering in 2006 to "keep abreast of what is going on in my son's school life." Today, with two children in Pri 6 and Pri 3 plus a toddler in tow, Mr Otega serves on the school's Advisory Committee and sees himself as an active volunteer for "at least a couple more years".
The close ties forged between parents and school at Temasek Primary can be traced to the efforts of a core group of parent volunteers who sport the moniker ParentConnection Committee (PCC). This name, according to Mdm Tan, who is chairman of the PCC, reminds members that they form a critical link between the school and other parents as they carry out various enrichment programmes and promote the well-being of the pupils. On the school's part, Vice Principal Mrs Ranjit Singh welcomes and values the time and expertise lent by the parent volunteers, stating that she heartily supports an "approach involving parents as our partners."
Starting each year together
Through role-playing, PCC chairman Mdm June Tan (holding the paper lips) helps prepare parent volunteers to conduct character education programmes for Pri 1 and Pri 2 pupils.
Every academic year at Temasek Primary kicks off with a meeting of the school leaders and the PCC to discuss the school's goals for that year. Individual PCC members will then assume responsibility for selected projects and manage them with the help of the teachers-in-charge, who form part of the team and ensure that the activities planned are aligned with the school's vision and values.
This arrangement is evidently bearing fruit, as PCC members have hatched over the years a number of programmes that are both successful and sustainable. One of these, now in its third year, is an initiative whereby parents get together to prepare nutritious breakfasts for Pri 6 pupils during the PSLE exam period.
Mr Mark Otega, a long-time volunteer, enjoys the opportunity to be part of the school progammes.
In the classroom, parent volunteers take the lead in two character education programmes for Pri 1 and Pri 2 pupils: SPARK (School's Parents Are Reinventing Kids Skills) and Project VOICE (Vision Of Inspiring Character Excellence). Both SPARK and Project VOICE have been running since 2002, so parents who are old hands conduct weekly coaching sessions for newer volunteers, showing them how to plan lessons, engage pupils and incorporate values education through music and movement, art and craft, storytelling and games. Mrs Singh adds that the volunteers also act as "character coaches" who encourage the pupils to show their appreciation for their teachers and parents on occasions such as Mother's Day and Teachers' Day.
Fostering community and continuity
Parent volunteers meet for about half an hour every Wednesday to go through lesson plans before heading to the classrooms.
Being involved in the PCC has given Mr Otega the chance to understand his children's teachers "on a more personal level". His kids, too, are "proud of his active role" and glad to see him in school often. Spending many hours on the premises, he added, has also opened his eyes to the diversity of programmes that contribute to the holistic development of the school community, such as TemasekMagicLand, the Teachers' Day celebrations, Sports Day, prize-giving ceremonies and talks for parents. This year, the PCC added a new feather to its cap by taking over the entire Teachers' Day line-up with the help of the parent volunteer cohort.
Such displays of appreciation have not gone unnoticed or unrewarded. Last year, Temasek Primary received the Partners Award (Merit) from MOE's COMPASS (Community and Parents in Support of Schools), which applauds schools with significant collaborative partnerships with their stakeholders.
The pupils enjoy the interactive activities of the character education programmes conducted by parent volunteers.
For all their enthusiasm, the PCC members face the same constraints as any other parent support group; many volunteers hold down full-time jobs and are hard-pressed to commit their time on a regular basis. Still, the school harbours few worries about continuity or 'losing' parents whose children move on to secondary education. Mrs Singh likens the PCC to a well-run organisation with a process of self-renewal that includes "good handholding sessions and valuable sharing sessions."
Having such schemes in place, she added, ensures that there is a pool of volunteers who can step up to the task whenever older members leave. And ultimately, it's the pupils who have benefited from the school's embrace of volunteers whom Mrs Singh described as partners "instrumental in working with the school to promote a learning community."