Thursday, July 31, 2014

Community Engagement is a Win-Win For All

by Dr. Rebecca Smith

Children succeed educationally in environments where community, parents, and school stakeholders are all committed to the same priorities for student learning.  Such settings are represented over and over in educational research that demonstrates schools that are “beating the odds” for student performance.  Our schools are an essential part of the development of our communities and the sustainability of progress for our future. Therefore, the commitment of partners to learning is at the nexus of a school’s success.  So the question is why are we not involving our community supports in our schools to the greatest possible extent?  In many cases – it simply is because educators may be reluctant or overwhelmed due to the many demands of their time, focus, and priorities in an age of accountability.  However, partnerships with parents and community can be a best practice for reducing the stress and providing necessary support to lighten the load of such demands resulting in positive outcomes for all who are involved. 

In high-performing schools, community members, parents, civic groups, Faith Based partnerships, and businesses can help develop, understand, and support a clear and common focus for learning.  Prioritized and aligned academic, social, and personal goals contribute to improved student performance and the support of varied partners has a meaningful and authentic role in achieving these goals.  The educational community works together to actively solve problems and create win-win solutions.  Mentoring and community- engagement models make for a win-win for community and schools with our children ultimately being the benefactors of such efforts. 

Some examples of ways for parents and communities to be involved include:

  • Lunch, breakfast, book club and field trip, club and special interest activity buddies
  • Tutoring supports before, during and after school 
  • Mentoring relationships which provide modeling of specific job skills, educational attainment, visits to successful work and post-secondary environments
  • Community partnerships for funds or in kind contributions for food, gas cards, school supplies, and clothing needs on site for families/ students who have emergent or hardship needs.
  • Access to quality and interesting books and support for parents on specific skills to help support their emergent readers
  • Expanded learning opportunities via partnerships with Arts Councils, Theater Groups, Universities –(events on campus that are developmentally appropriate, athletic events, etc. which provide cultural capital and experiences for children)

Early Literacy efforts with book and numeracy supports for school feeder programs including daycares, Head Start, and Pre-School programs that are connected to the school’s literacy and numeracy goals.

All schools need and benefit from successful partnerships within their community.  There are a variety of business, civic and publisher opportunities for such efforts that offer free resources and support. Check with your school to see what is currently available, reach beyond the school and initiate partnerships and be a catalyst to engage the community at your school. You will personally benefit from your efforts and so will the community and children who are impacted by your efforts!

Dr. Rebecca Smith has a background of 32 years of work as a teacher, administrator, and trainer K-12 at the school and district level as well as undergraduate and graduate teaching experience. She has Masters degrees in History and Educational  Leadership  and a doctorate in Educational  Leadership. Dr Smith  has published various curriculum guides and articles on effective teaching models and has provided training for staffs across her district and state via staff development and state conferences.    

She has most recently served as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for Rowan Salisbury in NC where she was able to create and lead  multiple literacy, technology, global ed, Common Core, Poverty awareness, brain based learning efforts, and various school reform initiatives.  Dr. Smith also wrote, secured and managed  many state and national grants for her district and worked on collaboration models to foster 90 new partnerships for the schools and community.  She is currently working on a publication on Reducing drop out rates and helping teachers improve student engagement.  Working with teachers and students to make learning relevant and interesting for reluctant readers  is her passion.  Dr. Smith serves as an adjunct professor for graduate education  for the University of Cumberlands in Kentucky and provides online instruction and advising for their School of Education.