Integrated Family Community Services 3370 South Irving Street, Englewood, CO 80110-1816 Ph: 303-789-0501

Strategies for Strengthening Community-School Connections

At times, students may feel that they’re surrounded by authority. They have to listen to what their parents say at home, what their teachers say in the classroom, and what administrators say in the school hallways. What students are truly surrounded by, though, are leaders.

Parents, teachers, school administrators, and volunteers can inspire students to give back or protect society by helping forge strong school-community connections. As you start looking for opportunities to create these bonds, you’ll notice that they can be found in many places.

How Teachers and School Administration Can Help

The ability to create real-world connections between students and their community is a key teacher-leader competency. Doing so can help learners form stronger, more memorable links between the concepts they’re studying in class and the real world. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Administrators of schools that are lacking supplies can sign up with Donors Choose. This online charity lets individuals donate to teachers and students. Donors can search for classrooms in need based on location or materials, or they can sort by schools with the greatest need if they want to donate there first.
  • No matter how old your students are, you can have them design a community resource map. Young children can draw a simple map with three of the most important resources, like the police department, post office, and library. Older students can be more creative and design a massive, hand-drawn map or create one on their computer. Teachers can also turn this into a year-long project by having students create a number of maps to show how the community has changed through history — the local library should be able to help with research.
  • Create lesson plans that involve local organizations. For the organizations that are happy to put time and effort into planning, ask them to create challenges, puzzles, questions or trivia to engage students. For example, a local fire department can provide a large map of a building and ask students which exit route they’d take if they had to get out in an emergency. Teachers can also connect with technical, student-focused organizations, like Future Farmers of America or Future Business Leaders of America, to provide guidance for high school students who are wondering how to continue their education.
  • Take students on a community walk. This is a great opportunity to teach them where the more popular streets are in town. Plan ahead to visit a variety of different businesses and let the students ask the owner or staff members questions. Older students can also help arrange the walk — have them call the businesses and speak to the owners to set everything up. The best place to start is with businesses that already have education initiatives in place. For example, Office Depot’s National Backpack Program distributes backpacks that are filled with school supplies to nonprofits and underprivileged schools.
  • Include social media in the classroom or lesson plans in order to teach students how to be civil online. Show them examples of times when people were not courteous to one another online and ask them how they feel about it. Also, designate times for social media and times to put devices away – this will help teach students how to be polite when they’re with other people instead of being distracted by their phones.
  • Encourage parents to organize carpools or walk their children to and from school. A single parent driving a single child to and from school is inefficient, causes traffic, and is bad for local air quality. It also increases the risk of a pedestrian accident. Instead of simply telling students to do these things, make it easier for them to arrange it. For example, pair up parents who want to carpool.

Parents, Families and Communities Framework for Education

Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University designed a research-based framework for how parents, families, and communities can get involved in education. There are six parts to the framework: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating. A few of these impact the community:

  • Parenting: In addition to teaching families how to support the student at home, this part of the framework also helps schools understand different backgrounds and cultures. When other students see diversity and inclusion at school, they may be more open-minded when it comes to being accepting of the members of their community.
  • Volunteering: Schools recruit and train parents and families to volunteer at the school or at other organizations. When volunteering at other organizations, students can get involved too.
  • Decision-Making: Families are encouraged to participate in school decisions, many of which may relate to how the school is involved with the community.
  • Collaborating: Parents can get involved in collaborations between the school and the community. They may opt to call local agencies, businesses, or organizations to arrange community events or invite speakers to the school. A fantastic collaboration for parents and schools in the Los Angeles area is Common Threads, which partners with schools in underserved neighborhoods to educate students about nutrition and basic cooking techniques.

As much as the local, state, and federal governments may do for the education system, individual schools and school districts have to take it upon themselves to forge relationships with the community. Long after the school year, students may still remember how they became involved in the community. The philanthropy and habits you start teaching students when they’re young often carry through to adulthood.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.
Tim Esterdahl

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