Engaging Parents in School Wellness: Provide Volunteer Opportunities

June 27, 2014

Last fall, HSC and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) developed a toolkit to help principals engage parents in promoting wellness. At the heart of HSC’s work in Chicago is our effort to engage stakeholders — parents, teachers, students, principals and others — in creating healthier school environments. HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development program engages teachers and principals in making their classrooms and schools vibrant places that support healthy students in the classroom, in the hallways, in the cafeteria and beyond. Building on HSC’s expertise in creating healthy school environments, this blog highlights the importance of providing parents with volunteer opportunities as a way to engage them in school wellness.

Engaging parents as school volunteers is essential to creating change in the community and ultimately improving health and wellness. Parents can improve health and PE classes, improve the delivery of health services and help create safe and healthy environments for students.

Here’s how can schools can take action:

Encourage parents as role models in schools

Encourage parents to serve as mentors, coaching assistants, monitors, chaperones, and tutors for school health activities. Bringing food for celebrations and meetings is another great way for parents to volunteer and model healthy behaviours. Chicago parent Hilda Cazares found that, at parent meetings, organizers would bring in coffee and sugary pastries. She saw an opportunity to bring in healthier options, all while expanding her cooking skills.

She says: “…my son was overweight and my daughter was overweight. I needed to learn how to make changes. I started [healthy cooking] with my family and wanted to share with other parents. When you’re involved with schools, you want to bring something good and different for everyone.”

Her healthier options were a big hit, thanks to her hard work to make them delicious, too. “What motivates me is that the parents are happy,” she says.

More resources:

One CPS fifth grade teacher asks parents to bring in a child’s favorite book, along with a healthy treat that matches the book’s theme.

The CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness offers a long list of suggested snacks for school meetings. Find it here.

Tap into talents

Consider the variety of parents’ schedules and talents. Provide opportunities for parents to lead health and wellness activities with students on sports teams; lead a lunchtime walk; or lead an after-school health and wellness activity, such as school gardening. Also, offer volunteer work that can be completed at home, such as making phone call reminders about wellness events.

Sometimes a little training goes a long way, to fully utilize parents’ talents. In 2010, HSC teamed up with 1World Sports to train parents in becoming volunteer recess monitors. Watch a video with excerpts from the parent training.

More resources:

Schools can survey parents to find out exactly what kind of opportunities are most interesting and appropriate. Download this PDF of resources to see a sample survey on page 89.

Involve parents in policies

As all educators and administrators know, students need consistent messages to reinforce what they’ve learned. By supporting healthy celebrations and fundraisers, school make sure students understand the importance of wellness and nutrition. Involve parents and guardians in writing the required Healthy Celebrations and Fundraising Plan to gain more support for these positive changes.

Their fresh perspective can help with both policies and implementation. At Greene elementary in Chicago, parents helped replace the school’s ice cream social with a smoothie social. Principal Michael Heidkamp says: “The nice thing about parents is that sometimes [staff can] get so caught up in the routines… we don’t necessarily see them with fresh eyes. We have parents who come in and say, ‘Here, this is a quick win, a smoothie social instead of an ice cream social.’”

More resources:

Read the requirements of the Healthy Celebrations and Fundraising Plan.

Download these “bright ideas” for healthy celebrations.

Making healthy changes in school culture isn’t always easy, but when parents and schools work together, they are unstoppable!

Read the whole blog series, here.

Made possible [in part] by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Grant Number: 1H75DP004181-01) to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office of Student Health and Wellness, Healthy CPS. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions and official policies of CPS or CDC.