What’s the common characteristic of most schools that are deemed failing? It’s that they exist in a rough community. Many of the problems that the school has are ones that can carry over from the community including fights, drugs, gangs, and more. It means that failing schools aren’t just school issues, they are community issues. Since schools are community issues, we have to find ways to make that community strategic partners. Doing that will help bring about the needed change.
To start this process in the community, I think you first need to look at what your community needs. Do they need teachers? Computer Programmers? Something related to a business in the area? If you have that need front and center you can then tweak what happens in your school (especially at the high school level) to fill that need. You can add pre-teaching classes and programs. You can add the AP CS classes. Those classes will prepare students who have a vested interest in the community for the jobs that really matter in them.
Just think about one of the biggest issues in failing schools. It’s easily teacher retention, and I got to see it first hand when I was technology coach. During that time, I was assigned to what many would consider one of the worst schools in the city of Atlanta. I did not know what to expect, but to my surprise there was an amazing group of teachers in the building. The issue though was that the group was small. Many times teachers left this building in the middle of the year simply because they could not handle the student population. You know who would be better positioned to handle them? People who grew up there. People who had a vested interest. If this school could ever get a pre-teaching program started, they may actually have a chance to build a staff that really worked for the tough area they are in.
Community involvement can also be other things. I have seen schools have incredible luck with internships, and so many communities have been generous in donating and giving items to schools. I have also seen things like professional sports teams sponsoring STEM activities. The key with all of it is can you creatively find an academic purpose for the community to be involved in that is mutually beneficial. If you can, run with it!
I think there is still some hesitancy to get these programs going in many schools because of the safety concerns that come within opening your building to the outside, but if we lock schools down students are never going to get the full benefit. We have to find ways to make it work. It’s too important to have people that have that investment into making the community a better place.
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