First child — if it’s not your alma mater, you’re probably doing the parent-volunteer thing for Phase 2B. So what’s it like? Father of two Terence Lim finds out…

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I have a confession to make: In the past, when I drove past primary schools in the morning, I’d snigger at parents doing traffic-marshal duties at the pedestrian crossings nearby.

“I’m way too cool for that,” I’d snort. Until that day when the missus told me that it was time to prepare for Primary One registration for my son, Ryan.
The former educator in her felt that Ryan should go to a good school within reasonable distance of our current place. I agreed. But she also felt that we should extend our voluntary service to the school of our choice so that Ryan could be registered under Phase 2B. I disagreed.

So obviously, Mr Cool Dad ended up have to do some of the 40 hours of voluntary work at the school. (Shudder!)

I consoled myself: It’s a way to know more about the school. It’ll be good to give Ryan some tips on which canteen stall sells the best food, which eraser is the cheapest yet most effective to buy at the bookstore, when is the best time to hit the library and the fiercest teacher to avoid at all costs.

The school administrator briefed us parents that there would be a series of roles available, ranging from sports-class assistance to event management, so that helped allay my fears. C’mon, I’m sure I can be the most kickass assistant to the soccer coach, lah!

Then reality set in: Most of the activities took place during working hours. I could take leave for some — but not all. And, in order to ensure fairness, there was this ballot system so that everyone had an equal chance of landing a volunteer assignment.

But being a traffic “Jedi” was the only guarantee that we would fulfill our 40 hours. For my son, I tried not, I just did.

We were handed some easy ones — I set up tables and chairs in the school hall for a calligraphy competition, we managed game stalls during the school’s Chinese Language Awareness Week, we assisted instructors during enrichment classes and so on.

But we were nowhere near the mandatory 40 hours and Primary One registration was approaching! We spoke to the admin officer, who assured us that there would be more assignments. “You will definitely clock 40 hours,” he said calmly.

Then, karma came knocking on my door: Daily traffic-marshal duties at various points of crossing in and around the school. Cool Dad had to don that neon vest and wield a school-provided “lightsaber” — not to fight the Sith but to stop oncoming vehicles so that students could cross the road safely. Nice. But being a traffic “Jedi” was the only guarantee that we would fulfill our 40 hours. For my son, I tried not, I just did.

Traffic marshalling wasn’t difficult. For three weeks, the toughest part was probably waking up early enough to be at my assigned point by 6.45am. I found out when peak traffic was, noted where the best place to drop Ryan off in the future was and when the school shut the gates. It also provided a good opportunity for me to get a rough gauge of the general student cohort.

I also learned that fellow parents empathised with and appreciated volunteers like me. Many of them greeted me with a nod or a smile each morning.

Parent volunteer work isn’t going to register in your CV or LinkedIn achievements. But it gave me a heads-up of the real world of the school that my child would be enrolled in. And that was priceless.

DAD SAYS Kid costs

MUM SAYS How my boys inspired me

I’m a proud stay-at-home-dad!