This story was originally titled "Class Act" in the September 2007 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!"It takes a village to raise a child.” This adage comes from an old African proverb that describes how communities work together to nurture upcoming generations. We saw this principle come alive at the recent opening of a new school in Sierra Leone. People from miles around gathered to celebrate. Vivid colours enveloped us as villagers danced, clapped and sang. Parents of future students beamed with pride.
Women share cooking and collecting of firewood for midday lunches at the school, and kids still too young to attend classes help clean the fields. Motivated by their community's hard work, students take tremendous pride in their school, often trekking long distances for classes and studying late into the night after chores.
Play an active role
We've visited literally hundreds of schools. The best ones, in Canada or in developing nations, are those in which parents and community members play an active role. These schools cultivate a strong spirit of social action and awareness among students. In turn, they provide kids with a broader view of their role in society.
Making a meaningful contribution doesn't require a lot of time or money -- and you don't have to have school-aged kids to get involved. Simple gestures, such as sharing a talent, can reap significant benefits; for example, your yoga mastery could lead an after-school session for stressed-out kids.
Understand your children
If you're not certain how to get involved, the parent-teacher association is a good place to start. If sitting on a council isn't for you, offer to supervise the kids of other parents who attend meetings. You can also mentor children or talk
to your workplace about offering internships that teach students valuable skills.
Continue to make a contribution even as your kids become more independent and you aren't visiting the school as often. Middle and high school kids depend just as much on your support, and connecting with teachers and other parents enables you to monitor your children's progress and social scene while respecting their need for space. The experience can also lead to a deeper understanding of the challenges they face, in and out of the classroom. Perhaps, most importantly, seeing you participate shows your kids you care about their school and peers.
Get in the act: Next steps
1. Talk to your employer about how the organization can help schools. Donate used office equipment to classrooms, see what expertise employees have to offer and ask management to allow employees to give their time (say, a few hours a month) to a school during the workday, without using vacation days.
2. If you know another language, translate at parent-teacher events for parents who are not fluent in English. Think of ways to involve parents of different cultural backgrounds in school activities.
3. Open up your garage or spare room for activities beyond school hours, such as editing the school newsletter or drama rehearsals.
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Craig and Marc Kielburger are the founders of Free the Children and coauthors of Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World (Simon and Schuster, 2006) and Me to We: Turning Self-Help on Its Head (John Wiley, 2004).