A Developmental Framework for School-Community Partnerships

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Close connections between schools and their communities reflect maxims such as ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and are a centerpiece of the neighborhood schools movement. The public debate and consternation about school closings and/or reorganizations are clear indications of how we value school-community relationships.

Although school-community partnerships are inarguably ‘a good thing,’ we don’t always think as carefully about how and why they are contributors to student success. Despite the fact that excellent thinking about school-community interactions as ‘mesosystems’ dates back over thirty-five years (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), the importance of the interaction between these two systems is often ignored.

A more recent and specific explanation may be the Search Institute’s “Forty Assets” framework, which was developed to understand the factors (or, assets) that lead to young people adapting and thriving. The Search Institute identified Forty Assets, encompassing external (outside of a young person, such as support, constructive use of time, parental boundaries and familial expectations) and internal assets (positive identities, social competence) via empirical research. The Forty Assets are a variety of “ecological nutrients” that are linked to young peoples’ success in school, general adaptation, and well-being (Scales, 2005). In general, external assets are believed to contribute to the development of internal assets among young people.

Of the Forty Assets, there are several that help us to better understand the how and why of school-community partnerships. Some examples of external assets that provide a general developmental frame that explains how school-community partnerships foster student success include:

Examples of External Assets 
How school-community partnership looks in action
‘Community values youth’ Adults value the young people in their community.
‘Youth as resource’ Young people given roles in the community.
‘Safety’ Young people feel safe at home, school, and neighborhood.
‘Caring neighborhood’ Young person experiences caring neighborhood.


More specifically, Scales and colleagues (2006) found that a combination of the following external assets contributed to the academic achievement of middle school students:

External Assets contributing to academic achievement
How school-community partnership looks in action
‘Youth programs’ Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the community.
‘Service to others’ Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
‘Creative activities’ Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theatre, or arts.


These external assets are thought to foster the internal assets of young people in that they provide supportive contexts for young people to feel valued. Additionally these contexts allow youth to be productive, feel capable, have a sense of purpose, and feel that they belong. Those feelings may be salient in developing internal assets such as:

Examples of Internal Assets
How internal assets relate to students’ sense of connection to school and academics
‘Sense of Purpose’
Young people feel that their lives are purposeful and meaningful.
‘Personal power’
Young people feel they have control over life circumstances.
‘Planning and decision making’
Young people know how to plan ahead and make choices.
‘Bonding to school’
Young person cares about his/her school.(Scales, 2005)


In turn, these internal assets serve as the ‘building blocks’ of students’ sense of connection to their school and to their academic achievement. These developmental outcomes promote thriving and strengthen resiliency, all of which are important for the growth of the school, the community, and the individual student.

In sum, school-community partnerships are viewed as important, yet we don’t quite understand the specifics of why. This article provides a developmental explanation of how and why these assets may be especially influential to students’ development and growth. This analysis supports spending time and resources on after-school activities, service learning programs, music and the arts. These programs are often the first budget items to be cut when schools are making hard financial choices, yet these programs may be important contributors (or, assets) to the developmental thriving and academic success of young people.

This article was written with contribution from:

author sealsChristopher Seals is a Ph.D. student in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) program atMichigan State University. His research interests focus on factors that influence the retention and academic performance of underrepresented college students.  Christopher received both his Bachelor’s degree in psychology and Master’s degree in counseling psychologyfrom the University of Louisville, and also worked as an admissions coordinator in diversity recruitment for 5 years.


Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Sesma, A., & van Dulmen, M. (2006). The role of developmental assets in predicting academic achievement: A longitudinal study. Journal of Adolescence, 29(5), 691–708.
Scales, P.C. (2005). Developmental assets and the middle school counselor. Professional School Counseling, 9(2), 104-111