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School Volunteers Broadening Reach

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Boston--Volunteerism has received a big boost since President Reagan took office, but many volunteer efforts in education are still fragmented, speakers said at the 11th annual conference of the National School Volunteer Program (nsvp) earlier this month.

The more than 300 participants at the conference discussed the need for volunteers to be organized and to consult school officials before they get involved in school projects.

"There is a mistaken impression that you can open the doors and [school officials will] say, 'You all come,"' said Mildred Jones, president of the nsvp "It's not going to happen that way."

Growing Role

But despite the difficulty that volunteers still experience in gaining acceptance for their work, speakers said, they are playing a growing role in an educational system in which professional staff members are hard pressed to complete all the tasks students and the bureacracy require.

Already, nsvp officials estimate, volunteer efforts in schools are worth about $14 billion--a fig-ure they arrive at by valuing at $4 per hour the efforts of approximately six million volunteers working for two hours a week.

In the past year, the dues-paying membership of the nsvp has increased from 1,500 to 1,800, the officials said.

In addition to attending seminars on issues such as business-school partnerships, special education, model programs, technology, and fundraising, members of the organization reviewed the first months of the Leadership Training Institute--a program established by the nvsp to train business and other community groups to run volunteer efforts in schools.

The program, which was initiated with a five-day working "retreat" in Los Angeles last fall, will probably involve more than a quarter of the nation's 15,600 school districts within the next three years, said Sandra T. Gray, executive director of the nsvp

The next institute will be held in North Carolina in late July or early August, and 10 regions eventually will host similar programs, said Ms. Gray.

There are still many schools in which volunteerism does not make a significant contribution, largely because administrators and teachers regard volunteers with suspicion, Ms. Gray said.

"For years, volunteers were seen in that light," Ms. Gray said. "Communication has improved among school people, and that phobia has [started to] go away. It depends on whether the school has had volunteers before or not."

Daily Operations

A survey conducted last year by the National Center for Education Statistics, the nsvp, and the Salt Lake City public-school district found that 21 percent of the nation's school districts do not use volunteers in their everyday operations.

"Some teachers are afraid it might involve a lot of work, that volunteers are spies, or will be critical," said Jeanne Widmer, a member of the Belmont (Mass.) School Board who attended the conference.

"The tension is very real," said Phyllis Dane, the former director of a volunteer program in Marshfield, Mass. Ms. Dane said the tension was "noticeably reduced," however, after members of her program held a workshop with teachers and administrators to address the issue.

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