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Fuel Up! On School Community Partnerships

Module by: Kim Allen. E-mail the author

Summary: School community partnerships are not just corporate sponsors anymore! School community partnerships include the entire community. Through the efforts of our building Communities In Schools Advisory Group and our entire school community, we were able to establish school partnerships that helped to build school spirit, student morale, and academic achievement; while empowering parents and students with internal and external community resources.

Demographics

I work in an urban comprehensive school. The school has a population of approximately 1,172 students. The majority of the population is African-American. At least thirty-six percent of the population has an individual educational plan (IEP). The students come from a low social economic background. The students have for two years met state bench mark requirements for accreditation; it has not met the requirements to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). (Virginia Department of Education, 2007).

The Need to Enhance School Community Partnerships

The need to enhance school community partnerships became a priority for our school in the midst of developing strategies that would help meet students’ basic needs. Often when engaged in parent conferences it became obvious that students were in need of services that we were not trained to provide or equipped to provide. Students who are in need of conflict resolution strategies, experiencing mental health problems, are experiencing truancy issues, poor high school transition or are discipline problems often were responding to deficiencies in the home. Parents would ask for help, via, special services, personal advice, or mentors and role models for their child. Formal and informal data indicated that we needed to devise ways to enable students to get the motivation and assistance that they demanded through their actions and needed.

Creation of New School Community Partnerships

To create new school community partnerships we worked with our Communities In Schools representative to determine what our common themes were when it came to student and parent assistance. We found through our conversations that there was a need to provide students with conflict resolution skills, mental health assistance, and motivation. Many of our students were experiencing mental health issues that did not classify them eligible for special education services, yet they needed counseling or medical attention for life experiences that was disrupting their ability to be productive students. Our school social workers and school psychologist were not able to promptly handle every case. We found that there was a need to develop partnerships to address non-academic needs of students and families.

The Look of the New School Community Partnerships

Ultimately, our school community partnerships were designed surrounding internal and external programs to address our common themes. Internal programs include the following on-going student incentive programs, to improve academic performance and attendance, and services that address mental health, behavior problems, and career planning:

Honor Bulldogs- Students who made scholar roll, honor roll, and perfect attendance were rewarded with lanyards and pins representing their accomplishments. Honor bulldog students’ parents were also honored at a dinner and given lanyards especially designed for the parents. This ceremony was also grouped with our fall and spring National Honor Society inductions. Students and parents observed wearing their lanyard around their neck was given encouragement, praise, and small and large surprises. There were five Honor Bulldog student and parent special awards programs. This incentive program also included a vast array of small business partnerships that culminated with one small grocery store providing a parent and student with a forty second shopping spree, in which the family managed to scoop up over $400.00 in groceries. And finally, a graduating senior was given an enhanced used car, freshly painted, complete with stereo system, trendy tire rims, and all facets under the hood replaced or serviced. Students had to be a Honor Bulldog to qualify for these opportunities.

A partnership was also developed with the Youth Empowerment Services (YES) and Youth Challenged and Positively Promoted (Y-CAPP) to provide therapeutic day care services. These groups set up an office and formed a team to work with troubled teens on behavior modification. The counselors became “go to” people for students and consistently checked on students through out the day to see how they were doing.

Another component that came through the Communities In Schools and other grant funds was the hiring of a full-time Violence Prevention Coordinator. This person worked with students on developing conflict resolution strategies, and worked collaboratively with our current peer mediator sponsor and the student peer mediators.

We worked closely with the Richmond Gang Reduction and Intervention Program (GRIP), to assist with a growing gang population, to enable students to find other means to meet their needs, and to get out of a gang if desired. Through GRIP we worked with the Governor’s Office, the Richmond Police Department and the Attorney General’s Office. GRIP as well assisted the school by providing interpreters for our Spanish speaking population, primarily our parents that did not speak English. We have a limited Spanish speaking population that has started to grow in the community my leaps and bounds.

We worked with Learning for Life, a division of the Boy Scotts, to provide job readiness skills, career interest surveys, career exploration activities, and after school job clubs. After participating in the job club students were given a hand in gaining summer employment. Summer programs were also available to interested students.

We had local doctors to come directly to the school or to donate office visits to ensure that all athletes had the required physicals required to participate in organized sports. These doctors also worked with the school to promote the division’s wellness policy. Healthy living habits and practices were encouraged.

We formed partnerships with institutions of higher learning: Virginia Commonwealth University, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, and James Madison University. We utilized these institutions for duel enrollment courses, advanced placement (AP) courses, college and career awareness, tutors, scholarships, and staff development. During the summer, students were provided college tours and summer programs.

We formed a parent volunteer group, “Shoulder to Shoulder” to make parents more aware of the daily operations of the school, monitor the many doors in the building and to help improve student behavior throughout the building. Students usually are respectful to themselves and others when they know they are being observed by parents and community members. Volunteers also participated in phone trees and other activities.

External programs were an expansion of internal program services. External programs included:

Local churches provide community activities on the weekends to build community pride, provide students with supplies, and community mentors. Several churches provided tutoring in the evenings. Churches worked to keep parents and community members informed on school activities. Churches also honored students for their academic and sporting achievements.

Continued in-home family services provided through YES, Y-CAPP, Family Preservation Services, The Center-For Child and Family Services, and Wilkerson Consultants. These organizations provided in-home services that included the counselor spending fifty percent of his or her time in the home with the student. The counselor observed communication patterns, team dynamics in the home, and who holds the power in the household. The counselor works in the home and becomes a member of the family over a six month time period. They help the family to see how other people see the family and how they respond to outsiders. In order to receive these services a student must be qualified by a mental health provider.

Program Results

We were pleased with the results. We saw improved individual behavior, more students striving to be on the honor roll and improve their attendance, and we saw a reduction in disciplinary referrals and enhanced school spirit. We also developed a larger support system of wrap around services for our students and parents to meet their basic needs. Ultimately, students were able to better handle the rigor, relevance, and responsibility required of them during their high school career.

Recommendations for Building Future Program Momentum

Administrators must create and maintain the relationships that they create. They should inform, invite, and encourage constant involvement between the school and the community. Identifying the various possible partnerships and developing a relationship with them is only part of creating positive school community partnerships. It is equally important to develop strategies that sustain continued school community relations. (Tareilo, J., 2007)

We have plans to extend our partnership with the district attorney’s office and with a well known author to develop a semester long writing project, The Pen Project. The project will allow students to learn how to communicate their opinions and thoughts through writing. This project will hopefully allow selected students to build their appreciation for writing and the power of the pen. If this project is success the project will be expanded to other high schools with additional authors.

In the future we will look at developing opportunities for service learning. We will develop partnerships that allow for internships, externships, job shadowing and cooperative education experiences. We will relentlessly attempt to increase parent involvement to continue to build student achievement and incorporate shared responsibility for student success. Parents will be encouraged to join booster clubs and build community-parent partnerships that support student activities.

We will also work to continue to develop on-going training via partnerships with institutions of higher education. These partnerships will expand to eventually include programs and activities with a thematic focus that include students, teachers, and parents. These types of partnerships will allow students to explore their interest, motivate them to be present in school, and work to achieve academic success.

Schools that work to develop an array of partnerships that assists in meeting not only students’ academic needs but their non-academic needs too will find that the challenge of overcoming the many problems that students often bring to school with them will not be as overwhelming. Parent involvement can be increased. Students, parents, and faculty will feel more empowered. What is the final word on fueling up on school-community partnerships? “Fuel Up!” reminiscent of a finely tuned engine, your school and students will perform better.

Bibliography

Tareilo, J. (2007, April 10). Building External School Relations. Retrieved from the Connexions Web site: http://cnx.org/content/m14434/1.1/

Virginia Department of Education. (2007, June 28). School Report Card. Retrieved from the VDOE Web site: https://p1pe.doe.virginia.gov/reportcard/report.do?division=123&schoolName=217

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