(Part 3 of a Three-Part Series)
Parental engagement is a popular topic in education today, and as we’ve discussed in this three-part series engagement is the result of the school/teacher and the parent building trust among one another and working together for the benefit of the student. However, it’s not just the parent and teacher that have a direct influence on student outcomes.
According to the Ohio Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement, Community Engagement has been shown to improve attendance, student turnover and graduation rates. It results in safer schools, including students getting to and from school, and increases service learning opportunities, involvement in pro-social activities and access to challenging academic programs. Additionally, schools with engaged communities realize more school levy passage because communities see youth as valuable assets.
How does a community become engaged and help drive these positive outcomes? It’s more than just voting on local referenda that supports schools or donating a product or service to their annual fundraiser. It’s establishing a relationship with the school through strategic partnerships, opportunities for ongoing education, and collaboration on events and initiatives designed to fulfill the values of both the school and the community. The tips below will help you get started.
Ensure Basic Needs Are Met
Barriers to learning are everywhere. For some families transportation to or from school is a burden. For others access to before and after school care may impact school choice. But when basic needs like food, shelter or health care aren’t available learning opportunities deteriorate even further.
Schools often try to ensure the basic needs of its students are met, but they can’t do it alone. Grocery stores and restaurants can collect food or money to provide meals for hungry families. Parents who are doctors or dentists or counsellors could provide physical and mental health assistance. Real estate agents may be able to find housing options for displaced families.
There is no shortage of ways local businesses and community leaders can help members of the community, particularly if the school were to provide the facilities and the messaging required to let people know help is available. The Quitman Street Community School in Newark, New Jersey, offers an example of how working with the community can help address the basic needs of its students.
Quitman practices a holistic approach to schooling, recognizing that a combination of factors—environmental, physical, and psychological— affect a child’s ability to learn (Warren, Hong, Rubin and Uy, 2009). This means serving both the needs of students and their families, which they accomplish by partnering with a local organization, CACNJ, to offer a full-service clinic and after school program. The clinic provides physical, dental and mental health services, while the after-school program offers enrichment programs. The result is an atmosphere where students and their families feel safe enough to focus on learning.
Spacious Skies, a proposed K-8 charter school in Colorado Springs, CO, favors a similar approach. Says Founder Evelyn Cortez-Ford, “We are here to not only educate our students but to act as a support system for their families.” This includes partnering with local businesses to find health care and housing for students and their families, creating opportunities for learning outside the school, and teaching students to be good stewards of their community. Filling a gap in life outside the school allows success to unfold inside the school, which is accomplished when the school and community work together.
Foster a Safe Environment
To learn, children and adolescents need to feel safe and supported. Without these conditions, the mind reverts to a focus on survival (Parrett/Budge 2012).
Communities themselves dictate their culture. If they don’t embrace their neighbors they are demonstrating that they don’t support one another. If they are prone to inaction when bullying or disrespectful behavior is displayed they are signaling that these bad behaviors are ok. If they are tolerant of unkempt buildings and lawns they are communicating a lack of respect for property. When communities set negative examples such as these it translates to a lack of safety and support for children. Communities that practice Social Capital, on the other hand, project an environment of trust.
Social Capital is the building of relationships between people that results in active participation in the community (Family and Community Engagement, 2005). Relationships lead to trust, allowing people to work together as a Hive to achieve mutually beneficial results.
Communities can build relationships in a multitude of ways. Music festivals, holiday parades or events, and even fundraisers for the neighborhood school or local charity offer a chance for community members to meet and engage with one another. Volunteer activities such as community clean up or neighborhood watch provide opportunities for people to work together to promote a healthy and safe community. Collaboration with the school can result in programs and activities for children and families to inspire learning.
Children who see examples of Social Capital in their community feel safe and supported, and as such are able to concentrate on their education. These children learn the benefits of being an engaged citizen, and understand that neighborhoods are important to their quality of life. Additionally, they are less likely to isolate themselves from individuals and organizations, display apathy towards being involved or be truant in school (Family and Community Engagement, 2005).
Become Partners With The School
Any formal arrangement between a school and an entity that provides a program, service or resource is considered a community partnership. Individuals, public and private businesses, and even associations that support student achievement can forge a partnership with a school.
Partnerships follow no specific guidelines or rules. In fact, they are bound only by the limits of each entity’s resources and imagination. By identifying what each partner hopes to gain and how they can help each other achieve those goals, everyone from schools, businesses, parents and students can benefit from the social capital and trust that arises from working towards a common goal.
Perhaps a local author wants to sell books, and if he hosts a creative writing workshop he can sell his books at the annual book fair. Or maybe the school soccer coach needs a team fundraiser, so she and her team host a skills camp for the neighborhood club. Even the local restaurant can get involved by offering a free meal to every child that takes a cooking class, which will bring entire families in for dinner.
The number and type of partnerships that can be forged with a given school depend on the resources available to that school, either by location or through enrolled families. Several examples of community partnerships that have been formed at schools nationwide include:
- After School or Summer Programs – Virtually every business or individual with a passion could host or help with after school or summer programs. Restaurants or local chefs might offer cooking lessons. Coaches may offer skills workshops. The local bike shop could teach riding technique and bike maintenance. Enrichment programs for athletics, learning clubs and cultural productions teach children about respect, responsibility, organization and the world around them.
- Internships – Picking a career or course of study is an overwhelming proposition for lots of students, many of whom have only a vague notion of what daily life looks like in a given field. Help them learn about your industry by inviting them to try it out.
- Career Day – Whether children attend work for a day or a series of speakers talk about their chosen field, exposure to new and challenging concepts drives the thirst for knowledge, and may inspire a student to understand the importance of a good education.
- Guest Speakers – Not every speaker has to talk about their career. Some may have unique life experiences that taught them perseverance or humility. Others may have a cautionary tale to tell. Some may just be entertaining. However, all can offer insight into life outside the classroom.
- Coupons/Fundraisers/Sponsorships – Schools are in constant need of funding, and businesses are in constant needs of customers. Fortunately funding and customers go hand in hand. Local businesses can arrange to donate a portion of the proceeds generated by school families on a specific date; the business is assured customers and the school is assured some level of financial gain. Coupons could be made available in the school directory, which parents have to buy from the school. Or businesses could advertise on the jerseys of the local team or in the brochure of school arts club.
- Display Student Work in Business – School artwork could decorate local restaurants, which could be auctioned at the end of the showcase period. The library may display student work and host “meet the author” nights where students talk about their projects. Students feel recognized for their hard work, and parents enjoy seeing their children receive that recognition.
- Community Meetings – A common theme in parental engagement is the need for parents to feel comfortable in the school and in the community. Who better to keep them informed than local businesses? Maybe a realtor or city official can help explain how much of their taxes go toward school funding. Perhaps a financial planner could help parents evaluate college savings plans. Doctors may partner with grocery stores or restaurants to host workshops on healthy eating, cooking for allergies, or other programs designed to keep students safe and healthy. Parents who interact with local businesses don’t just establish trust with that business, they feel like a valued member of the community.
Another critical component of the community meeting is to address diversity and inclusion, a sensitive subject for many neighborhoods. Schools and businesses should meet to discuss changes they need to adapt to, and even those they can promote, in order to foster the kind of environment where students and families feel safe, where social capital is encouraged, and where people are proud citizens of their community.
Each year schools gain a new set of “customers.” Businesses can capitalize on this by working with the school not just to gain new patrons, but to enhance the sense of community. When establishing a partnership with a school, businesses should think not just about what they want to gain, but also what they can offer.
Remember, partnerships can provide learning opportunities, but they can also help limit exposure to inappropriate influences. Children are in school an average of six hours a day, which leaves 18 hours for their education to be, “reversed by family, negated by neighborhoods, or subverted or minimized by what happens to children outside of school,” (NEA Policy Brief 2008). Therefore, partnerships can help reduce idle time while engaging children in the local community.
Build the Workforce of Tomorrow
Business is rapidly evolving, and keeping up is a significant challenge. For example, in just thirty short years texting has gone from a non-existent concept to the preferred method of communication for most Americans. In the same period, we’ve seen business funding by banks drop as alternative methods like crowd funding have skyrocketed in popularity.
By the time today’s elementary school children graduate we’re likely to see an abundance of self-driving cars, and 38% of jobs are expected to be lost to robots by 2030. New concepts and technology come about so fast they’re outdated by the time they make it to the classroom. But businesses can make sure these advances don’t skip over the workers of tomorrow by sharing their knowledge today.
Several Colorado schools are already partnering with local businesses to give their students the tools necessary to transition to the workplace. Rocky Canyon High School brought in entrepreneurs and professionals to guest lecture a business class, sharing their experiences about building a business, creating marketing strategies and finding funding. Aurora schools, which have the new Anschutz medical campus in their backyard, are working to introduce families to health sciences with the help of their new neighbor, inspiring students to explore science in the process.
Partnering business with school can help introduce students to business concepts and skills that will benefit them as they enter the workforce, provided the goal is to cultivate and nurture a love of learning. Exposure to a variety of local businesses can not only help students understand the world around them, but inspire them to ask the questions that will solve tomorrow’s problems.
A recent article, Entrepreneurs Could be the Key to Revitalizing Areas of the Country That Have Been Left Behind (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/305080), highlights how good things come from a group of people who all participate and put energy into the system. The author is talking about business, but what if this concept was applied to schools? What good things may come from a bunch of businesses putting energy into our schools?
Join the Conversation
Parental engagement may originate with the school, but the school can’t do it alone. In fact, when community groups collaborate with public schools, they take their emphasis on building social and political change into the school itself through processes of relationship building, leadership development, and public action (Family and Community Engagement, Models for Family and Community Partnerships, 2005).
Do your school and community work together for the benefit of students? What partnerships can you suggest to the school that might benefit your community?
Family and Community Engagement, Models for Family and Community Partnerships (2005) Ohio Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement (http://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Other-Resources/Family-and-Community-Engagement/Models-for-Family-and-Community-Engagement/Community-Partnerships.pdf.aspx)
Feld, B. (2017) – Entrepreneurs Could Be the Key to Revitalizing Areas of the Country That Have Been Lost, Entrepreneur (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/305080)
HiveDM (2017) – Unique Community Partnerships Create Opportunities for Spacious Skies Charter School Students (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15f5a82a1c10d35a?projector=1)
NEA Policy Brief (2008) Parent, Family, Community Involvement in Education, NEA Education Policy and Practice Department | Center for Great Public Schools (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB11_ParentInvolvement08.pdf)
OBrien, A. (2015) – What Community Engagement in Education Looks Like…And Can Do. Edutopia (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-community-engagement-education-looks-and-can-do-anne-obrien)
Parrett, H. and Budge, K. (2012) – Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools ASCD (http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109003/chapters/Fostering-a-Healthy,-Safe,-and-Supportive-Learning-Environment@-How-HP~HP-Schools-Do-It.aspx)
Warren, Hong, Rubin and Uy (2009) – A Community-Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement (http://www.lsna.net/uploads/lsna/documents/beyond_the_bake_sale.pdf)