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Cascade Matters is the blog of Cascade Educational Consultants. Cascade has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. We are committed to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens. Learn more about us.

Cascade Educational Consultants is an educational consulting firm committed to high-quality equitable teaching, learning and serving environments for all students to succeed in school and in life. Click here to learn more about our services...




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School and Community Engagement

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At a nearby elementary school, third-graders eagerly await a bus full of senior citizens to continue their lessons on how to surf the web and send e-mails to their peers and family. Twice a week, these “tech tutors” engage with their older partners from the local senior center to increase their technology knowledge and skills.
The collaboration between the local school and senior center and played out not only in the Technology Lab, but also on the school campus and at the senior center itself. The elementary school students and seniors often join together singing songs, writing poetry and sharing stories for mutual benefit.

You can imagine the joy seniors express sharing their stories with their young friends and the lessons the students learn from the seniors.

Far too often, when schools desire to engage their community, it is for specific short-term opportunities to contribute to a school’s program or classroom project. This limited orientation to engagement might address a current need, but does not mobilize communities to provide long-term sustained collaboration. Most importantly, it does not bring each student to his or her fullest potential.

Sustainable community engagement is the inclusion of community members in school decisions, planning, activities, visioning, communication, and other school-related activities. It is based on the notion that children whose communities are involved in their schooling have a more successful educational experience. The community benefits by better understanding how (1) schools operate, (2) students can contribute to community development and (3) communities can contribute to a high-quality school system that serves all students effectively.

To create opportunities for the community to be deeply engaged in sustainable school-community engagement the school must understand the difference between identifying potential collaborators and mobilizing community members, institutions and organizations.

Identification of potential collaborators simply creates a pool of candidates that might be included in schools; whereas mobilizing not only identifies candidates, but demonstrates the mutual benefit to the school and community and fully taps the community resources.

My experience shows that community members, institutions and organizations are willing to contribute to school improvement, but rarely understand the entry point to do so. Often, they need help to identify the way the school system is organized to take advantage of the resources they can bring. Here’s what schools can do:
  • Effectively communicate their desire to engage the community
  • Establish strategies and easily accessed ways for the community to engage with the school
  • Identify specific benefits to the school and the community to establish school-community collaborations
  • Engage the community in real elements of school decisions, planning, activities, visioning, communication, and other school-related activities
  • Conduct research that measures and demonstrates the benefits of engagement to students, schools and the community
  • Publicly share the results of school-community engagement

At the same time community members, institutions and organizations need to:
  • Identify the resources they can bring to school improvement and student development and achievement
  • Co-create and co-design school-community engagement so that there is not a request for the school to “buy-in” but rather to “co-own” from the beginning
  • Determine the short and long-term benefits of engaging with the local school
  • Provide the school access to community facilities
  • Encourage internships, school-to-work programs, shadowing and other opportunities that engage students in the community to acquire/enhance workplace knowledge and skills
  • Volunteer together with students to address community issues/problems

Sustainable school-community engagement benefits schools and the community by mobilizing their rich resources toward mutual benefits.

The seniors I mentioned certainly learned about technology, but also about the lives of nine year-olds. On the flip side, the students were adept with technology, but less experienced in the world outside their local community. These potentially life-changing experiences do not come from occasional cooperation between schools and communities rather from thoughtful, long-term and sustainable collaborations.

About the author: Terry Pickeral, president Cascade Educational Consultants has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.

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This article is one in a series on the topic of Engaging the Public in Public Education. It was developed to provide a set of resources to assist schools in discovering innovative strategies for engaging the full spectrum of stakeholders in the education process. To read other entries in the series, please click here. To download the entire series with links and resources, please click here.







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