School/Community Partnerships and Meaningful Student Involvement

When education works to bring nonprofits, faith communities, businesses, local government agencies or community groups into schools in substantive ways, they are working to foster community/school partnerships. These are deliberate efforts to bring together a variety of formal and informal organizations and institutions from a school’s surrounding community into schools or the district as a whole. Meaningful Student Involvement can serve as a bridge that spans the gap between schools and communities.

Cultivating Resources

School/community partnerships can infuse learning environments with a wealth of resources, including experienced adults ready to be partners with students to improve learning. These adults can become mentors, tutors, guides, friends and teachers to students, helping illustrate directly how the community cares about students. They can also bring learning materials such as tablet computers and CAD programs; musical equipment and music education supplies; and other physical resources. In turn, Meaningful Student Involvement in school/community partnerships can lead to students teaching adults, serving as mentors to business leaders, building bridges between local nonprofits and devising student-led plans for community betterment.

There are many ways to foster these partnerships. Teaching approaches such as service learning, placed-based learning and apprenticeships can tie students together in positive, empowering relationships that benefit learning, teaching and leadership throughout the surrounding community. Students can teach adults from the community all sorts of powerful lessons, while adults benefit from from having substantive solutions to real community problems.

Reports are increasingly suggesting that Meaningful Student Involvement is essential for effective school/community partnerships. A range of students need to be engaged for this to be effective, especially traditionally disengaged students. Specific efforts should be made to reach out to these students, and in turn to the neighborhoods and communities they are from and identify with. In addition to community presentations, Meaningful Student Involvement coordinators can work with academic counselor to identify about students who are good candidates and the areas they are from or identify with. This should especially include students and communities whose viewpoints, backgrounds and academic experiences can balance those students who are already engaged. Following up with students and community partners is vital to encourage them to participate and sustain their partnerships. (Benard & Burgoa, 2010; Hands, 2009)

Infusing Community Resources

The Seattle Youth Media Camp was a partnership between Seattle Public Schools and Service Learning Seattle, along with a local company called Social Moguls and SoundOut. Held in a historically low-achieving school called Cleveland High School, the camp was included African American, Asian American and white students. Funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Youth Media Camp was a meeting of minds where a convergence of the agendas of service learning, media literacy, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), CTE (Career and Technical Education), and film making only happened through community/school partnerships.

Students learned from a variety of community partners, including a former Black Panthers leader, a community TV news anchor, a local nonprofit media organization, and others. In turn, they created a short film from the ground up, including conception, acting, directing, supporting, gaffing, laughing, critiquing, scoring, editing, and presenting. Their powerful actions created a strong footing for ongoing change and transformation at their school and throughout the community for years to come. (Fletcher, 2012)

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