One Tuesday in February, Jeff Switzer went back to school with his two sons as part of a King County program that allows employees to volunteer at local schools.
Dressed in a white t-shirt with the WATCH D.O.G.S logo on the front, he picked up his itinerary for the day from school officials and made his way to the cafeteria to help feed students on reduced priced meals.
Switzer, a Public Affairs Coordinator for King County Department of Transportation, was using one of his allowed school volunteer sick leave days. The code – School Volunteer Leave, section 14.5 in the King County Personnel Guidelines – allows employees to use up to three days of sick leave each year to volunteer at their children’s schools.
“Schools continuously need help from everyone,” Switzer said. “The kids need help with school work in the classroom and sometimes a friendly face at recess.”
The School Volunteer Sick Leave was created by King County Court in 1987 in order to recognize “that [King County] workplace needs to accommodate the increasing number of two-wage earner families, single-parent families and working women” as put by the then-County Executive Tim Hill.
Director of Human Resources Nancy Buonanno-Grennan believes that School Volunteer Leave is an important benefit for King County employees with school-aged children.
“Many employees are not even aware they have this opportunity,” Buonanno-Grennan said. “Giving employees a chance to volunteer at their child’s school enriches not only our employees’ lives, but the lives of the students and community members.”
She went on to say that it makes sense to give all employees the opportunity to volunteer, regardless of whether they are parents, and King County needs to look at more flexibility in its policies to facilitate greater community volunteerism.
“Many of us come to public service because we want to give back to the communities we live in,” Buonanno-Grennan said. “Right now, we have a bewildering number of leaves, and the use of sick leave to volunteer in our children’s schools is just one of them. We are exploring if there is a better way to provide opportunities for employees to give back to their communities as part of our Best Run Government: Employees work.”
Between January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2014, 291 King County Employees utilized the school volunteer leave program.
When Switzer decided to get involved with his kids’ school, he volunteered with WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), a subset of the National Center for Fathering. When he heard of the policy from coworkers, Switzer requested a volunteer leave.
The program is for getting fathers involved in their children’s lives and in education and aims to provide positive male role models for students. Having the WATCH D.O.G.S. father’s at school demonstrates that education is important and provides support in terms of school security and prevention of bullying. But WATCH D.O.G.S. is not just for “dads” as the name would suggest – anyone who is a grandfather, uncle, or other father-figure type can volunteer through the K-12 program.
Switzer has been volunteering for several years, attempting to volunteer at least once a year with his sons.
“Moms are so great about joining and volunteering with PTA,” Switzer said. “But dads don’t seem to get involved as much, which makes this a great program to help improve that connection.”
Switzer urges fathers to volunteer or help out at schools as much as possible. For him, the experience is always eye-opening and he marvels at how teachers help 30 different kids from all different backgrounds and learning levels, Switzer said.
Being able to help kids who are struggling is the most fulfilling part for him. WATCH D.O.G.S have the volunteers working their way through classrooms, doing activities with the students such as reading aloud and helping with math and writing. He also got the chance to have lunch with his sons and attend recess with them.
For Switzer, he found himself making an impression on the students. Switzer said that wearing the shirt made the fathers “rock stars” and kids had an easy to recognize visual reminder of the volunteers being safe and fun person to go to.
Switzer’s advice to King County employees with kids on how to get involved: “Find a place, find a need and help fill it.”