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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: A few years ago, I discovered an incredible need teachers have. The day after school ended, I had a couple of free hours and impulsively stopped by the school and offered to help my daughter's teacher pack up for the summer. You would have thought I donated an organ! What I did was not hard: We took down bulletin boards, packed books, etc. It was quite enjoyable.

Before school began in the fall, I offered my services again, but this time my 18- and 15-year-old daughters joined me. The teachers nearly named a day after us. We cleaned cubbies, arranged desks, cut out shapes and set out supplies. It doesn't matter if you have one hour or four. It makes a difference.

The most wonderful part was my daughters telling the teachers they had no idea how much work teachers devote to preparing for their pupils.

I recommend this as a wonderful volunteer opportunity. The added benefit was exposing my teen-agers to the "behind-the-scenes" activities of these energetic, committed professional teachers. -- KAREN WARREN, GAINESVILLE, FLA.

DEAR KAREN: A terrific idea. Everyone's a winner when everyone chips in, but why stop there? Schools welcome the continual involvement of parents in their children's education, and that involvement results in more diligent students.

DEAR ABBY: I read in this morning's paper the letter from the paramedic who was called to the home where the little boy drowned. It was a sad letter that made my heart ache.

We have a fence around our pool and keep the gate securely locked. Our son knows how to swim and follows the safety rules we have established.

I thought I was a responsible pool owner -- until last Mother's Day. We had invited friends over for a cookout and swimming party. We ate in shifts so an adult would always be with the children as they swam. My friend and I were eating poolside; her husband was in the pool with the children. All four of the little ones (under 5) had taken swimming lessons and were good swimmers. My friend's son was floating on a kickboard. We looked away for a moment, and when we looked back, he was nowhere to be seen. We moved the kickboard, and there he was, trying to come up for air! Somehow, I managed to reach in and grab him.

We were lucky. He had been holding his breath. In a few more seconds, he would have drowned. All this happened in 3 feet of water, 3 feet from me, and with five adults in the pool area.

Since then, we have added new rules: We now have at least one adult watcher for every three children. This person must be alert at all times and watch the children. We rotate so the same adult isn't always the watcher. If a child cannot swim, he or she must wear a life vest, and the parents are responsible for their children the entire time they are in the pool.

Abby, a fence around a pool and a locked gate are mandatory. We had a close call we will never forget. Safety rules must not only be established, but strenuously observed. -- LIFEGUARDING MOM IN PHOENIX

DEAR LIFEGUARDING MOM: There is no telling how many lives you may have saved today because you took the time to write.

Thank you for pointing out that it is not enough to be in the vicinity of a pool -- or other body of water -- when children are in it. The children must be watched closely at all times.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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