Giving Back to School

Volunteers are vital to our schools’ success.
Karen Rose with her nephews, fourth-graders Austin Sween, far right, and Henry Sween, in Karen’s Garden at Stonebridge Elementary.

It may seem simple—helping stack books at your child’s elementary school book fair, chaperoning a fourth-grade trip to the zoo or visiting your grandchild’s classroom to help sew pillows. But by donating time and skills to a neighborhood school, volunteers not only contribute to the school’s success, they leave lasting impressions of kindness and the importance of community service on students.

On such volunteer is Karen Rose of Stillwater. Rose first began volunteering at Stonebridge Elementary School in Stillwater when she was driving her children to and from school. Rather than making the trek back home, Rose decided to stay at the school to volunteer. She filled her days by giving school tours to visitors, settling in on the classroom floor to help students read and using her artistic background to teach students how to create animal portraits. Fast-forward 35 years and Rose is still volunteering at Stonebridge Elementary, making sure kids get on the right buses at the end of the day and helping out in the cafeteria at lunchtime.

“I enjoy watching how kids approach something and learn it,” Rose says. “I think public schools are so important. Everybody has a right to an education, and you do what you can to make it work well for all of the students.”

School administrators and staff agree that it is people like Rose who help make our schools and community shine. In fact, Stonebridge recognized Rose’s extensive contributions by creating a rose garden named in her honor in the school’s courtyard.

“We have people helping classroom teachers with day-to-day things, and they’re all valuable. When we can get our parents volunteering, the message it sends is that school must be very important because Mom and Dad are here,” says Derek Berg, principal at Stonebridge Elementary. “I think that’s a critical message to share with our students.”

Without the help of volunteers, school activities such as book clubs, field trips, dances and back-to-school bingo wouldn’t be possible at Hudson Prairie Elementary School.

“Volunteers are an integral part of our school community,” says Susie Prather, principal at Hudson Prairie Elementary in Hudson. “Our parent-teacher organization (PTO) is something that really helps support our kids and brings the community together, and our success with learning and behavior are due to the parents’ involvement.”

Nancy Fjestad, co-chair of the Stonebridge Elementary School PTO and the mother of two school-age children, agrees. “Volunteering is crucial to our community because of the depletion of funds going to our schools. Teachers are amazing individuals, but they need support for the little things. The tasks sometimes seem small, but to a teacher who is working hard to keep the classroom running smoothly, they are important.”

Today’s school volunteers aren’t simply helping out in the classroom and serving on planning committees—they’re influencing the community by highlighting the importance of giving back and encouraging students to take action.

“Volunteers help bring a greater sense of community partnership into the school, which is priceless,” says Rachel Larson, principal at Marine Elementary in Marine on St. Croix and at Withrow Elementary School in Hugo. “Without volunteers, we couldn’t offer field trips, special school events and celebrations, and extra-curricular opportunities—and we wouldn’t be able to afford unique programs that are so important to our schools.”

To learn more about volunteering in these school districts, visit or