Schools with significant populations of ELLs in their communities face many different challenges as they think through how to bridge the school-community gap. Although making community connections is important for all schools, the language and cultural differences between educators and business and church leaders in these areas of high ELL concentrations can certainly make the task of reaching out daunting. Even challenges such as knowing who to contact can inhibit making those connections. However, examples of successful partnerships do exist here in Michigan.
Over time, Lansing Public Schools has built strong relationships with St. Vincent Catholic Charities (SVCC) and theRefugee Development Center (RDC). Both agencies help to resettle refugee families by providing social and educational support. The RDC’s major program components are to improve language acquisition, provide content area support for students, and provide cultural adjustment. In addition, they work with local schools by notifying them when new families arrive in the community.
While the partnerships between Lansing Public Schools and SVCC as well as RDC are well established now, these relationships took time to develop. They initially came as the result of Lansing Public Schools creating a formal Bilingual Department to address the needs of all of their ELLs. As Sergio Keck, Director of Instructional Support for Lansing Public Schools, explains that when developing this department, they looked outside the district for assistance: “From there we looked at the community to see who is out there, who knows this population, and we started developing, and got engaged in partnering in simple little services.” Since that time, Lansing Public Schools has also built partnerships with other local businesses and the City of Lansing.
It is important to note that the partnerships built between Lansing Public Schools, SVCC, and RDC are mutually beneficial. For Lansing Public Schools, these relationships provide district officials with information about the arrival of new refugees, which allows schools time to prepare to receive new students. In addition, these partnerships help facilitate additional instructional support for ELLs that is tied directly to the district’s curriculum. For SVCC and RDC, working together with Lansing Public Schools ensures a strong support system for refugee children who are transitioning into American society and helps orient refugee parents to the K-12 school system.
At this point you might be thinking, “There aren’t any refugee development centers near my school, so what options do I have?” There are always ways to build and strengthen community connections. However, it is important to go about doing so in a thoughtful fashion. In particular, you will want to think about who you can involve and how you can involve them. In an effort to help schools think through this process, we have developed the Planning for Successful School and Community Connections tool to use as you plan your efforts to strengthen ties between your school and the community. For example, you might consider asking each grade level team to identify one potential person, organization or agency in the community to seek out and begin cultivating a relationship.
School and community partnerships have the potential to be exceptional forces and those who have built these relationships see their unquestionable value. As Sergio Keck reminds us, “This is the beautiful thing about having community partners, because these kids—you cannot educate these kids on your own. So you have to educate them with many resources.”
Until the next issue,
Madeline Mavrogordato & Jennifer Paul