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Fingerprinting parties make it easy for parents to volunteer

on November 3, 2011

It was a brisk Saturday morning at Dejean Middle School when Kelli Tharpe stepped into Room B102 at the seventh annual Parents as Partners and Leaders Conference. She waited in line patiently and made small talk with other anxious parents.

“I’m out here to support my children in Helms Middle School,” Tharpe said. “I think it’s great that the district is encouraging parent involvement and going about it the right way.”

Tharpe is among several parents that have decided to take a more active role in West Contra Costa Unified School District by becoming a volunteer.

Parent Kelli Tharpe gets fingerprinted by Matthew Lujan to become a WCCUSD volunteer. (photo by: Spencer Whitney)

As a volunteer, Tharpe now has the opportunity to work as an overnight field-trip chaperone, enrichment class leader, yard supervisor, library attendant, and in other roles that will help the district to better serve its students. The increased support from parents determined to take a more active role in their childrens’ school lives is a testament to the district’s initiative to establish a better relationship between parents and administrators through community engagement.

“We processed 140 parents on Saturday alone during the annual conference,” said Marin Trujillo, community engagement coordinator for WCCUSD. “Last year, we had around 700 parents become volunteers. By December of this year, we will have over 1,000 parents in our database.”

But becoming a volunteer requires a few items, including proof that they’ve passed a tuberculosis (TB) test, a valid identification, a completed volunteer application with a principal’s signature, and, most importantly, their hand. Fingerprinting is mandatory in WCCUSD for any parent that wants to become a volunteer and work with children on a regular basis, but it’s also one of the things that has kept some parents from volunteering.

The requirements come from a Board of Education volunteer-assistance policy to ensure students remain protected from any form of misconduct by adults on school grounds. Fingerprinting is only required once from each volunteer, and is maintained at the district office. The file remains active and applicable even if the volunteer changes schools.

There are benefits to joining the volunteer program, and one way to get a volunteer application done quickly is a party, Trujillo said. At “fingerprinting parties,” the regular $47 processing fee is waived, all the necessary paperwork is processed quickly and efficiently, and a WCCUSD volunteer badge is given to the applicant after all documentation is received and verified.

With Richmond’s expanding Latino population, some parents have raised concerns about undocumented family members interested in becoming volunteers. Trujillo tried to allay those concerns.

“If you are an undocumented worker, the fingerprinting does not go to Homeland Security and they don’t have to fear reprisal,” Trujillo said. “The district has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the school. There’s room for every parent in our volunteer program.”

To drive the point home, three Know Your Rights workshops were held at Dejean Middle School last year as a forum to help educate parents about what to do if they are approached by immigration officers.

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