Engaging the Local Community Inside the School Walls
Community support is a vital part of school and student success. Students, teachers, administrators, and business owners all win when community members bring their expertise, talents, and ideas into the schools. All too often, schools only approach local businesses to sponsor events or donate money and goods. This set-up limits the possibility of the relationship and makes it feel like a business transaction. But when the people at businesses work closely with the people in schools, the relationship turns into a partnership—each side getting something they didn’t have before.
Before we dive into ways that you can bring community members into your school, let’s look at some of the benefits of school-community partnerships.
- Bringing the real world into the classroom. It is important for students to see how the things they’re learning now can translate to life in the future. Business owners and people who specialize in certain areas can give students excellent examples of how they’ll use science, math, writing, reading, and creative skills in their future work lives.
- Improving understanding. When business owners and local community members come into the classroom, students meet people they might not otherwise know. Conversely, business owners see what the environment is like in their local schools. This helps each group form more educated opinions about the other.
- Encouraging creativity. Many adults say things like, “If only I’d know that was a possible job!” when they hear about other peoples’ employment situations. The truth is that jobs are always changing and evolving. Many jobs exist today that weren’t around just a few years ago. In addition, there are jobs you’ve probably never heard of or thought much about. Invite people into the classroom who can demonstrate to students that work can be fun and can be something you didn’t even think was a job. Students will be excited to know that these jobs exist in their own backyards.
- Strengthening programs. Teachers can learn a lot from experts in the community. People actually putting knowledge into practice every day usually understand the most recent trends and research. By partnering with them, teachers can strengthen the curriculum and make it more modern. In turn, businesses can learn about activities and lessons that work well for certain topics. They can revamp their professional development and training based on pedagogically sound skills they learn in the classroom.
Invite the Community
If the benefits mentioned above sounds like things you’d like to pursue, here are some ways to get started with school-community partnerships. Many of these ideas take some planning and scheduling, so engage parent volunteers, teachers, and even community members who are already involved to help share the work.
Host a career day.
Invite people from the community in to talk about their jobs and their businesses. You might want to start with parents first. Ask them if they have the time to come in for a career day. Also ask for recommendations of people they know that you can contact. Try to include a variety of professions and skill levels. Don’t forget to include STEAM careers to help students see how studying math, science, technology, and the arts can lead to great jobs in the future.
Have a health and wellness fair.
Students at all grade levels study health and fitness during science or physical education classes. Plan a health and wellness community fair on the school grounds and invite people and business from the community that work in related fields. Consider asking people who work as farmers, vets, doctors, police, yoga teachers, etc.
A health and community fair could also include a 5K run or walk to raise money for the school. Community partners might want to sponsor certain programs or bring in certain activities like climbing walls, ambulances, dog immunization stations, etc.
The opportunities for community business to show off what they do with a captive audience at a school fair helps them find new clients. The school benefits by exposing students to interesting careers and involving families in fun activities.
Start a mentoring or internship program.
Have students explore community businesses and industries. They should write a letter to a person they’re interested in learning more from. The letter will introduce themselves and their interest in the industry. Mentorship programs might work better for younger students. You can invite community partners into the classroom to work one-on-one or in small groups. Older students can participate in internships where they work on site with the community member. Teachers should work closely with community members to decide on the best type of work or experience for the students.
Differentiate teacher training.
Community members understand how academic work is being used in the real world. Their understanding of information is not just theoretical, but also practical. Pairing community members with teachers will give teachers a way to collect real world examples of the concepts and skills they teach. For example, an automotive technician can help a math teach come up with some engaging scenarios about cars. Business people or project managers could help teachers revise project work flow for useful checkpoints or help them improve time management.
Bringing the community into the classroom benefits everyone involved. Students learn from people who are doing work in the real world. They are exposed to jobs they never imagined existed. Teachers can get help making lessons more authentic and engaging. Schools gain community support and businesses get more involved in the community and gain more clients. Getting to know your neighbors never sounded so good.
Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.