school volunteer hands laptop in cardboard box to a student
Volunteer Fabiana Ahumada hands over a Chromebook assigned to Coliseum Prep Academy student Nelson Perez, 12, on Aug. 17, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos

Each year, the Oakland Public Education Fund connects hundreds of volunteers with Oakland schools to help tutor students, assist classroom teachers, beautify campuses, and more. 

The education fund is currently seeking volunteers for its annual back-to-school beautificiation week from Aug. 1 to Aug. 5. Volunteers will take on three-hour shifts at a school to help teachers set up their classrooms, work in school gardens, put up bulletin boards and other decorations, and more. 

The beautification week is just one of the annual events that the Public Education Fund recruits volunteers for each year. Parents, caregivers, and community members are also encouraged to support OUSD schools during five other themed weeks during the school year. 

Four of those weeks celebrate cultural heritage by inviting community members to read books with elementary school classes: Latinx read-in week in October, African American read-in week in February, LGBTQ+ read-in week in March, and Asian Pacific American read-in week in May. Computer-science education week happens in December, when volunteers who work in the industry are encouraged to talk to students about their careers or plan an interactive activity.

The organization also recruits community members for ongoing volunteer support, like virtual or in-person tutoring, working in campus gardens, offering career coaching to high school students, and assisting teachers in classrooms. Those who speak languages other than English can also be of service at OUSD’s dual-language schools.

Ongoing tutors must commit to at least one hour a week at a school, and must complete a background check, a tuberculosis screening, and provide proof of COVID vaccination if volunteering in person. 

School volunteers are critical right now, as many schools are facing staffing shortages and need support to help students catch up after the pandemic disrupted education for the past two years. 

“We got a lot of requests for support from schools that were not typical last year,” said Teresa Giacoman, who manages the school volunteer program for the Education Fund. “We need folks who can be around during supervised lunch time, or we need support with the crossing guard situation.”

Last school year, the organization had around 1,000 community members who signed up to volunteer, and about 2,500 parent volunteers, and still needed more, Giacoman said. For those who are still wary of attending in-person events, many volunteer opportunities are also virtual. 

To sign up for a specific event like the beautification week, individuals can fill out the online registration form and indicate what project you’re interested in, and your availability during the week. Parents who are interested in volunteering at their child’s school can also register through the Oakland Public Education Fund. Parents are often needed to serve as field-trip chaperones or drivers, Giacoman added.

The Oakland Public Education Fund also provides an orientation for all volunteers and training for those who will be tutoring students. Those interested in becoming an ongoing volunteer can also register online, and you’ll receive an email from the Oakland Public Education Fund to set up the next steps and onboarding requirements. 

“Students seeing their community members support their school community exposes them to other caring adults and different kinds of people,” Giacoman said. “It lets them know that the people who live amongst them care about them and are invested in their education.”

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.