There has been an increased focus on educating the “whole child” to ensure each student is well prepared for current and future challenges and opportunities. Such an approach encourages parents and community members to become part of the education community and contribute to the full development of each student.
Often times school staff contributions are absent from receiving an invitation to contribute to student learning and development, but for many students they find affinity with school office staff, custodial staff, nurses, counselors, social workers and bus drivers. At the same time these individuals may well be ready to more actively participate in student development.
Several years ago, as I worked with local middle schools to design and implement environmental service-learning programs, we recognized that one of the locations of environmental service was several miles away requiring school bus transportation. We realized that these 15-20 minute trips offered a great opportunity to prepare students for their service and upon return to reflect on their learning. To take full advantage of this opportunity we met with the bus drivers and developed a learning opportunity for them to (1) understand the concept of service-learning and how students contribute to the environment while learning science, math and social science concepts; (2) recognize the opportunity during the drive for students to prepare for and then reflect on their service experiences; and (3) acknowledge they can be co-educators with the teachers and on-site supervisors to encourage students to learn from their service.
The bus drivers were eager to engage the students and in fact would ask questions of students as they entered the bus, encouraged discussion and reflection during the trips and actively participated along side the students at the service site. The result was that students continued their learning and development on the bus, as it became an extension of both the classroom and the service site.
Around that same time one of my colleagues in a nearby state worked for a non-profit focusing on environmental education and like our experiences engaged students in service-learning activities. She took our engagement with bus drivers to another level and taught, with the teachers, the non-profit staff members about the math and science curriculum including the standards that students were expected to achieve. Thus as students engaged in environmental service-learning the staff members showed the relevance of the service work to the academic curriculum and anticipated outcomes and impacts.
These are two examples of how schools can engage staff and community partners to contribute to student learning and development. These collaborations expanded the learning opportunities for students from a sole focus on academic knowledge to the application of knowledge in the community.
At a time when schools are committed to students’ development of 21st Century skills engaging school staff and community organizations greatly enhances student acquisition of decision-making, teamwork, communication, creativity/innovation and critical thinking skills. These attributes are needed in our schools, communities and nation to ensure our youngest citizens understand the relevance of education and contribute to the health and well being of their communities.