Circle of Responsibility
My colleague Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County (CA) superintendent of schools, shared his Vision for our children in the new year ahead in an editorial January 10, 2016 in the Santa Barbara New-Press.
As Bill shared his vision and appreciation for the community’s engagement with schools and students he stated: “Parents, teachers and organizations in Santa Barbara County have a long and distinguished history of forming a circle of responsibility around our children. It is with the full support of the community we serve that we are able to maintain the quality of the programs that are designed to improve children’s lives in meaningful ways.”
I appreciate Bill’s acknowledgment of the critical role the community plays to ensure students are (to quote Bill) “free of fear, free from abuse, free from drugs and free from prejudice.” This is a significant statement that ensuring students’ full development is a community and school responsibility rather than the sole responsibility of schools.
In my experience community engagement in schools is usually by a few individuals and organizations rather than a deeper broaden network in support of schools and students. There are some parents more available and interested in actively participating in schools, likewise some community organizations see the benefit of engage with schools and some community members have the time and inclination to contribute to schools and student development.
I believe we need to focus on other individuals and organizations not immediately interested and/or able to contribute to schools and student development. Not to dismiss those individuals and organizations fully vested in school improvement and student development but to motivate others who lack either the interest or time to devote to P-12 education.
A few suggestions to begin designing engagement strategies for those currently less engaged:
- Consider opportunities for individuals and community organizations to contribute outside of normal school hours (as one of the reason for not being engaged is lack of availability during the school day) such as after school programs and evening and weekend activities and events.
- Provide, in partnership with local youth organizations, daycare or evening care for parents and community members to care for their younger children while they are present in the school.
- Consider the contributions individuals and organizations can make as mentors and/or on-site career orientations. For example, local banks often have board rooms for convening groups that can host field trips for students to gain fiscal literacy, most malls have conference space to accommodate classes to hear from merchants about the importance of education and/or partnering with local senior citizen facilities providing opportunities for older and younger generations to share their experiences, knowledge and skills.
- Ensure the school has a climate that is inviting, safe, engaging and acknowledges the contributions of individuals and communities so that they feel welcome and that their contributions are meaningful.
- Encourage the PTSA to reach out to parents to identify their skills and match them with school needs such as carpenters that can assist in developing stage props, artists that can contribute in art exploration and skill building, cooks who can demonstrate diverse techniques and importance of healthy eating and/or environmental advocates sharing personal and social activities for safer and healthier environments.
I believe that not only is a community circle of responsibility around children something to celebrate but something to expand to engage even more parents, individuals and community organizations. As we have adopted and adapted teaching and learning strategies for meet the needs and assets of each students we should be able to establish unique opportunities and activities that engage the diversity of our community members and organizations in our schools.