How Do We Get There Part 3 – The Community’s Role

For generations, we have relied on educators to prepare our children for the future, and while they continue to play a critical role in the education process they must not be the  only responsible party.

Only 13% of a child’s time is spent in the classroom (Wherry, 2004) leaving over 86% of the time outside of school. Therefore, we must acknowledge that families, coaches, neighbors, community leaders and local businesses all have the opportunity to have a significant impact on a child’s overall education.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), “when schools, parents, families, and communities work together to support learning, students tend to earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, stay in school longer, and enroll in higher level programs.” Thus, much like it ‘takes a village’ to raise a child it takes a community to educate a student.

By recognizing that we can all be teachers, we can turn entire communities into classrooms. The key is to make the community part of the school.

Getting the Community Involved

Volunteering is one of the most common and popular ways to encourage community involvement in schools (Pridesurveys, 2016), but many community members, especially those without a child in the school, aren’t aware of volunteer opportunities.

Communication is key to creating a welcoming environment where volunteers and supporters can become partners. By reaching out to their parent community our neighbors schools can gain much- needed volunteers, and position themselves as a hub for the community. When this occurs schools, local businesses and professionals can develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

By inviting businesses and professionals into the classroom, schools are able to expose students to a variety of real-world skills and even careers that may become the inspiration for their learning journey. This enables the school to supplement classroom learning in a way many parents find constructive. However, students aren’t the only beneficiaries of this volunteer effort.

Businesses that visit the school are creating relationships as well as learning opportunities. Maybe some of those students will work for that business as adults. Maybe some of those students will share what they learned with their parents and the business will acquire more customers. Or perhaps the school itself will become a customer or referral partner.

Getting in front of students can have numerous benefits for businesses and professionals in the community, but it isn’t the only way to work together. Schools can invite experts or thought leaders to host informational meetings for parents on subjects ranging from college planning and financial aid to nutritional information or online safety. Businesses can sponsor school teams in exchange for having their logo appear on uniforms or in event programs, and discount coupons or products could be offered as incentives for fundraising achievements.

Positioning the school as a hub for the community at large, and exchanging information about the opportunities and benefits that can be achieved as a result, lays the foundation for a lasting relationship between all parties. This contributes to the long term viability of the school and the community itself.

Education is the best investment we can make to ensure we have economic growth in the long term (, 2016). Good schools attract families and businesses. Families and businesses help ensure economic stability. When communities engage with the school they are making an investment in human capital, which not only prepares students for the future but solidifies the future of the community.

Building a Successful Partnership

A true partnership requires more than simply putting business leaders inside a school and waiting for the magic to happen. Each party must understand one another’s goals and objectives, with a periodic review of the results to ensure mutual satisfaction.

“Community partners need to see how working with students furthers their mission, and educators need to see that students are gaining skills that complement their curriculum and involvement in the community (Loria, 2018).

For example, local businesses may be looking for more clients while the school wants students to understand all the different ways math will be part of their lives. By inviting these businesses to share stories with students about how they use math in their profession, and in turn shining a spotlight on these businesses in a school newsletter or by giving them space to host informational meetings, both parties can achieve their goal.

Partnerships with complementary yet unrelated goals can be a positive experience for all parties, however, partnerships with a shared mission or vision are often the most successful. For example, improving a neighborhood park or starting a community garden can improve the aesthetics of a community while teaching students about construction, safety, zoning requirements, farming and environmental sustainability.

The number and type of partnerships schools can establish with the community have no limit, however, to capitalize on the many types of partnerships that can be built it’s important for schools to gather input from the community. The Community Collaboration for School Innovation toolkit does just that.

Developed by the Colorado Department of Education, The Colorado Education Initiative and The Learning Accelerator, the toolkit is built on the premise that it’s better to pull information in rather than push it out. In other words, give the community a voice and work together to make it a reality. The result is a collaboration that leverages tools and resources for the benefit of students. Through a willingness to engage one another and explore the possibilities, a multitude of opportunities can be identified and nurtured.

Success Stories

According to Amy McLeod, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Lowell High School in Massachusetts, “We’re turning kids off to learning in this country by putting them in rows and giving them multiple-choice tests — the compliance model.”

To supplement classroom instruction Lowell High School has incorporated Pathways into their curriculum. Under the Pathways program, the school works with local businesses to offer classes in engineering, health, business, environmental sustainability and culinary arts. Students have access to professional facilities including a newly renovated restaurant, a credit union and state-of-the-art robotics equipment, where they can apply the skills they learn. They also have an externship/internship program that allows students to apply classroom skills in a real-world setting.

Lowell High School has more than 600 students, 463 of which graduated with 10 or more Pathway credits in 2017. These credits earn a special designation on transcripts, providing either a postsecondary resume boost or in some cases certification in skills that make them job-ready upon graduation.

Linden-McKinley STEM Academy in Columbus, Ohio, partnered with the Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology and the Columbus Education Association to help give students projects that connect them to their community. The result is, “Water, Water, Everywhere,”  an investigation of how improper disposal of hazardous materials affects water quality.  Students study the water supply in their community and make proposals for reducing contamination and improving water quality.

Community-based projects such as Water, Water, Everywhere help students to become informed citizens, capable of taking what they learn in class and applying it to real-world issues. “Our project will give my students the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way and give valuable information back to their community,” said Te’Lario Watkins, a teacher at Linden-McKinley STEM Academy.

Multnomah County in Oregon implemented the SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) Service System, which offers a range of social and educational services for community members. Anyone seeking academic support, recreational activities or even health services know they can find assistance at any one of the area’s 60 schools.

The SUN program was designed to benefit the community, but students were the primary beneficiaries. Average test scores exceeded state goals for students who sought academic support through SUN for 30 or more days, with over 75% making gains in their test scores. Additionally, the graduation rate for SUN participants swelled to over 80% compared with less than 60% for the district as a whole.

Join The Conversation

There is little doubt that learning happens both within and outside of the classroom, and that entire communities can participate in a student’s learning journey. How does your school engage the community? How has your student benefitted from guest speakers, field trips or special projects that introduced them to real-world challenges?


Flock, K. (2018) – Students are being prepared for jobs that no longer exist. Here’s how that could change. (


International Survey Associates Staff (2016) – Why Community Involvement in Schools is Important. (



Learning Accelerator Staff – The Learning Accelerator. Community Collaboration for School Innovation. (


Loria, R. (2018) – Education Week. A How-to Guide for Building School-Community Partnerships . (



Lowell High School Staff (2017) – Lowell High School Pathways Program (



NEA Staff (2011) – Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0 (


Sackville Schools Staff (2016) – How Great Schools Benefit The Whole Community. (


Sheninger, E. and Murray, T. (2017) – EdSurge. 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools.


Wherry, J. (2004) – The Influence of Home on School Success (