Can you believe the summer break is over? Me neither! But it is, and with the end of summer there will be new challenges when heading back to school. Unfortunately, a rise in Foreclosures and a decline in property values means less tax dollars, and therefore, less money for the schools.

I like to meet challenges like this head on. It’s also an opportunity to build a stronger community in our schools. I have come up with seven ways that you can help out this year. If you don’t have kids in school, don’t stop reading. You can help too.

1) Teaching Supplies–Most teachers use much of their hard earned money to buy supplies for the classrooms. All those cute decorations, tools, visual aids, etc. all come out of their pocket. Find out where they like to shop for the supplies, and if you can afford it, get them a gift card for that store.

2) Join the PTA–Most Parent Teacher Associations have a membership drive at the beginning of the year. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, cousin, sibling or just a friendly neighbor, those PTA dues (usually very little) go a long way to help the kids. You can sign up relatives that live out of the area too.

3) Volunteer–There’s always something going on at the school that can use some free help. The great thing about this is that you can help as your personal situation allows. For example, if you have a very busy work schedule, just try to find one hour a month to do something at the school. If 30 people volunteered for just one hour, the school would have 30 hours of help.

I’m not talking about anything outside your skill set either. I helped open car doors in the morning at my kids’ elementary school. It’s certainly not brain surgery, but it helps keep the morning safe and only last about 20 minutes in the morning before I went to work.

Some other opportunities are: be a room parent, help to sell snacks after school, assist at the school carnival, be the person that runs the PTA web site, or if you love Facebook, then set up a Fan Page and help build the community online. The opportunities are endless and the more involvement, the better for the kids…even if it’s only an hour a month.

4) Buy a Candy Bar–or wrapping paper, or a candle, or greeting cards, or whatever the children are selling…even if you don’t really need it. Those fund raisers are great for the school and the kids love winning the silly little prizes they get for selling stuff.

5) A Kind Word–The school staff and teachers usually only hear from parents when there is some kind of issue. For every nice thing they hear, they must hear 10 more negative things. You’ll make such a difference by simply saying something nice. And don’t just do it the first day of school. Keep the kind words coming all year long.

6) Student Supplies–You know how there is a list of supplies for each child to buy at the beginning of the year? Well, during these tough times, there is probably a child in your class whose parents will have difficulty purchasing those items. If you have a little extra cash, consider buying double of what your child needs. Give the extra set to the teacher and let them know that it’s for anyone who can’t get their supplies. The teacher will know who needs help. And if there’s no one in need of help, the supplies won’t go to waste. The teacher can use them as backup supplies, or when a child forgets, loses or breaks their own stuff.

7) Know Your Child’s Teacher–Get to know you child’s teacher. You don’t have to be best friends, but it would be great for you to have open communication with him or her. Be sensitive to the busy times. The morning and pickup time probably isn’t the best time to have lengthy conversations. But a quick “hi” and attending the parent/teacher meetings will be invaluable. And if they have some helpful critiques about your child, don’t take it personally. School isn’t just for learning the ABC’s…it’s also a great place to learn social skills that will serve them the rest of their life. I know you’re child is a perfect angel…mine is too (wink wink), but just in case they have a devilish day, the teacher can really use your support to back them up when your child needs a little social adjustment.

Keep in mind, the more you participate, the more it helps your kids–and as a whole, our society. On the local level, a good school helps property values stay high (I’m a Realtor, I had to mention it). I can think of several communities that have been less affected by the decline in home values, partly due to the schools (think South Pasadena, Carpenter Avenue, Colfax Elementary, South Pasadena, Calabasas, etc.) Living in a nice, friendly, safe community is attractive on many levels and a good school reinforces this kind of neighborhood.

These are seven ways you can play your part in helping your school. Pick one or pick them all. And the great news is that some of them require absolutely no money at all. I would love your thoughts and your ideas, so please feel free to add any more you can think of as a comment to this post.  And feel free to repost!

Todd Jones, Proud Parent and local Realtor.