Six months since President Barack Obama urged Americans to volunteer in their communities, a new report by GreatSchools and Harris Interactive suggests that some parents may be taking his message to heart. According to a survey of more than 1,000 parents, this year parents plan to increase their volunteering in schools by 20%. “The Economy’s Impact on Back to School” also found that 64% of parents believe that it is more important to volunteer now than before.

What’s behind this increased interest in volunteering?

Beyond the inspirational speeches of the nation’s father in chief, bleak economic times may have played a part. In the midst of the worst recession in 70 years, the nation’s schools face devastating budget cuts — threatening everything from enrichment programs to classroom supplies.

According to the report, some parents — especially lower- and moderate-income families living in urban school districts — expect the current economy to have a destructive effect on their children’s schools. For some parents, the new interest in volunteering is far more pronounced. This year 60% of African American parents say they intend to volunteer — up from 23% in 2008.

Could increased parental involvement provide a much-needed glimmer of hope for the nations’ schools? Project Appleseed, a nonprofit that attempted to measure the economic stimulus of increased parent volunteering, concluded that “if every public school student had at least one family member volunteer 10 hours, the minimum dollar benefit to children and schools would be $17 billion in volunteer capacity.” Though the potential payoff of more parent involvement is great, the question remains will it materialize?

According to the report, while many parents recognize the importance of being actively involved in their children’s education, only 44% volunteered in schools last year.

What keeps parents from attending those fun-filled PTO meetings, chaperoning all-day field trips, and working in the classroom? Not surprisingly, most parents (71%) report that the primary obstacle to getting involved is time. But the second most cited obstacle may provide a wake-up call for educators: Half of parents note that the lack of opportunities provided by schools or teachers is a major impediment to their involvement.

What’s more, the report finds that the best parental intentions don’t always translate into best practices, especially when it comes to back-to-school preparation. According to the study, at least three-quarters of parents alter sleep schedules and buy supplies, but fewer than half focus on more substantial preparations — such as finding out what subjects their kids will be learning, or reducing television time.

Conducted by GreatSchools and Harris Interactive, “The Economy’s Impact on Back to School” questioned 1,086 parents of school-aged kids in the United States.

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