Points of Engagement for Community Leaders

by Shari Prest, President, ARK Associates

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“What is community engagement? Community engagement is a two-way street where the school, families, and the community actively work together, creating networks of shared responsibility for student success. It is a tool that promotes civic well-being and that strengthens the capacity of schools, families, and communities to support young peoples’ full development.”
– Community and Family Engagement, Principals Share What Works, MetLife Foundation, NASSP, NAESP

“What can I do?” may be the most important question you ask yourself in your lifetime. The second most important may be, “What else can I do?” In other words, what can I do beyond what I am doing now to make the world a better place for everyone? What can I do to close the learning and income gaps so that all people have an equal opportunity for success? These questions can be addressed through engagement in education – not only the education that takes place in our schools, but more importantly, the education that takes place in our homes and communities.

The question of our purpose—or what we can do—to improve our world was explored as long ago as the recording of ancient scripture; it was the inspiration for the best seller, “The Purpose Driven Life”; it is the theme of Justin Bieber’s “Purpose” tour. As human beings, the desire to make a difference seems hard-wired into us. However, in this age of unimaginable conveniences, massive consumerism, and the inundation of media, we often fail to look beyond our daily occupations and toward our collective futures. The truth is we all have the capacity to make the world better…for someone.

The Search Institute outlines 40 developmental external and internal assets that support the healthy development of adolescents. (See them all at search-institute.org.) Among those assets are the following:

  • Family support
  • Other adult relationships
  • Caring neighborhood
  • Parent involvement in schooling
  • Community values youth
  • Service to others
  • Adult role models
  • Youth programs
  • Creative activities
  • Religious community

If you are wondering how to engage with learners or learning and where to start, following are some suggestions.

  • Ask your local school board, superintendent, principal, teacher or parent teacher organization to describe the needs and opportunities for volunteers.
  • Become active with local mentorship or befriender organizations (i.e. Big Brothers/Big Sisters).
  • Initiate a book shelf or reading hour in an underserved neighborhood.
  • Offer to tutor kids in skills or academics where you excel. Invite a parent to observe.
  • Hold open tutoring, math, or reading sessions in the local library or other public place.
  • Hold a monthly or quarterly neighborhood picnic or pizza party where kids and adults can participate in activities together and get to know each other.
  • Begin a summer and/or afterschool program in which children can participate while parents gather in another area to hone their own skills and develop a social network.
  • Hold local talent shows, music shows, art shows, etc. that encourage children’s participation.
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for youth of all ages to volunteer.

There is a role for everyone. Our children need you to be actively engaged in supporting learning through the opportunities you and your communities offer inside and outside of the school setting.

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