No matter which perspective you consider it from, creating opportunities for community involvement in schools is difficult.
While educators, families, and community partners genuinely care about student success and well-being, they often approach both with different ideas and methodologies. Furthermore, there are often many barriers when it comes to any of these parties interacting smoothly with each other.
These barriers can be good (schools vetting local businesses carefully before choosing them as a partner or service provider), bad (using a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to communicating with families), and understandable (educators aren’t always privy to what’s going on when a student isn’t in class).
Even if you’ve overcome one of these hurdles, sustaining community involvement is often more difficult than creating the opportunity for it in the first place.
Schools are often a focal point for community involvement: families send children to school, where they’ll learn many of the skills they need to become happy, healthy, successful members of society. That means the majority of the work involved in breaking down barriers to community engagement in schools often falls to educators. While families and community partners might step up to help out, it’s often on school districts to make the first move to work more closely with the community.
Luckily, many districts have done just that. If you’re looking for innovative ways to involve your community, see if some of the examples below inspire you to act.
Districts across the country are building windows and opening doors to make more room for community involvement. They’re attempting to both meet members of their communities where they are and invite community members to reciprocate. Through invitations to events, offers to contribute to decision making, and the creation of physical spaces where the community can gather, districts are exploring new ways to involve their communities in the education process.
One major way to connect with families and members of the community is to hold in-person events. Compton Unified School District does this with its STEAMFest. Around 10,000 community members attend the event, which spotlights the district’s STEAM programs. The event includes interactive stations, student exhibitions, and the winners of the district’s science fair. In addition to student work, the district invites community partners to create STEAM booths and activities that students and families can enjoy. By creating this large-scale event, Compton Unified’s STEAMFest showcases student and district innovation and invites all members of the Compton Unified community to get involved as partners or attendees.
Check out other examples of large-scale community engagement events
However, you don’t always have to invite thousands of people to an all-day event to create opportunities for community engagement. Creating events on a smaller scale can also be effective—and more manageable—when fostering community participation.
One district that makes it a point to bring families into the classroom for smaller events is Wyckoff Township Public Schools. During events like “Maker Nights” and “Art Room Afternoon,” students and their families are encouraged to attend workshops and take part in hands-on learning experiences. These events engage students and the family members who accompany them. They also give parents and caregivers a chance to connect with teachers and school leaders while seeing what their kids are up to.
Some events are particularly focused on parents and caregivers. Group talks with educators, such as “Math Fluency” and “Mindset Matters: A Growth Mindset Seminar,” give adults the opportunity to understand the theory behind what goes on in the classroom and ask questions about what their children are learning. These talks give everyone involved in the teaching process—educators, parents, family members, caregivers—a chance to connect and get on the same page about what happens when their children are in school.
Events and group meetings aren’t the only ways to engage community partners. Sometimes the best way to bring people together is to find common interests and create a project you can work on together.
Cajon Valley Union School District, for instance, found common ground with local businesses and community leaders in their passions for student engagement, the health of the community, and life after high school graduation. Working together, the district and its community partners came up with the World of Work, which exposes students to various career opportunities starting in kindergarten.
To create the World of Work, the district collaborated with members of local government and business, inviting them to share their visions for the community and discuss the trajectory of their fields. The district continues to engage local business through participation in the program’s “Meet a Pro” chats, where students go on virtual tours and physical field trips to learn more about the job opportunities their community offers. High school students also have the chance to earn certifications and complete post-secondary education, which allows them to gain real-world skills. The district hopes these efforts will help bridge the disconnect between education and industry, and demonstrate how students can participate in their community through a career aligned with their interests after high school graduation.
Find other examples of districts who encourage community involvement for student success
Sometimes, encouraging community involvement entails more than recurring events, big or small, or working with community partners to build education initiatives. Some districts have gone the extra mile to create physical spaces where their community feels welcome and cared for.
One such district is Vancouver Public Schools, which has established 18 on-site Family-Community Resource Centers (FCRCs), along with two mobile FCRCs, to help students and families address challenges they might be facing outside of the classroom. Through their FCRCs, Vancouver Public Schools connects families to resources and information related to health care, housing assistance, transportation, food, clothing, hygiene items, school supplies, and more. The resource centers give parents and caregivers a physical place to connect with the school system and gives community partners with students’ best interests in mind a space to offer services that help district families.
FCRCs were created—and continue to be organized—by input from students and their families. Through Parent and Family Leadership Advisory Groups and students and families who serve as staff and site coordinators, FCRCs ensure that they’re responding to urgent and ongoing community needs. Building on the success of their existing spaces, Vancouver Public Schools hopes to expand their FCRCs’ offerings to include vaccination clinics and on-site childcare.
By creating a physical space to accommodate its community, Vancouver Public Schools shows up every day in support of its students and their families.
See other examples of districts who have created spaces in their communities
By creating pathways big and small for community members to get involved, League districts are paving the way for higher levels of family engagement, curricula that connects students with real-world opportunities, and caring for the basic needs of students and their families.
Following in the footsteps of any of our example districts, your district can also make moves to engage community members in meaningful ways. And for more examples of district community engagement, you can also check out our full collection of League of Innovative Schools Innovation Portfolios.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear how your schools are engaging their communities. Drop us a line in the comment section below or tweet at @DigitalPromise to tell us about the innovative ways you’re getting your community involved in the classroom.