Many teachers are overwhelmed. With an increase in state and federal demands for accountability in student achievement, there seems to also be a failure to recognize a very important piece of the puzzle. Although teachers are primarily held responsible for student achievement, most barriers to school success have little to do with what actually happens in the classroom. Students enter the classroom with a variety of challenges that they bring with them from home, the greatest among these being family stress and poverty.
In 2015, for the first time in U.S. history, a majority of U.S. public school students came from low-income families, according to alarming new research. Luckily, this is not the case in Spotsylvania County. However, we do have many students and families that are struggling. During the previous school year, in Spotsylvania County, there were 291 students that were designated as homeless. This just takes into account those students whose parents filled out the proper paperwork, which many choose not to do.
American psychologist, Abraham Maslow stated that people have certain basic needs such as food, safety, and belonging that must be met before more lofty goals like achievement, self-esteem, and critical thinking are even possible. Because how can a student who is hungry, preoccupied, or who does not have the necessary supplies succeed in school? They can’t. Students must have their essential needs met before school success is within reach.
One of the greatest challenges that I faced as a teacher and that most teachers face is trying to fill, on their own, the many roles of counselor, social worker, community organizer, instructor, morale-booster, etc. that are needed to push students up the hierarchy towards achievement. This is probably why the popular adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. It does in fact take the contributions of an entire community working together to raise healthy, safe, and well-educated children. But what does this really mean in our modern education system, and what would it look like to have the “village” actually participate in public education?
In the past, community involvement in education mostly meant parental involvement, and I still think that the best way to improve your student’s school experience and academic performance is to get involved in their school. However, community involvement may hold the key to solving even larger issues such as high dropout rates, low student motivation, and scarce resources. This is because community involvement helps to address a variety of student needs including those that go beyond the classroom, by connecting students with social services and community resources. For this reason, community partnerships, in conjunction with parental participation, may just hold the key to building more high-performing schools and improving student achievement. And these partnerships are a win-win as they are usually mutually beneficial to the school system and business or community group.
You might be wondering, who can become a community partner in education? The answer is that local government agencies, non-profit organizations, private agencies serving youth and families, local businesses, community organizations, faith-based groups, colleges/universities, and civic groups can all contact their local school division to find out how they can help. Usually schools partner with parents and members of the community to fill various roles such as:
Volunteering to work with students
Speaking during assemblies and career days
Participating in or helping to organize recognition programs for students or staff
Improving the physical environment and structure of schools
Assisting with fundraising
Working on initiatives to improve staff morale.
Really, the possibilities are endless and the way to determine the best fit for you is to think about what your company, group, or you as an individual can specialize in. What do you do best? Five years ago we, at Parrish Leaning Zone, were asking ourselves the same question. With my previous experience as a special education teacher in several Title 1 schools, I knew how heartbreaking it is to see students show up day after day without the basic supplies necessary for school success. So, at Parrish Learning Zone, we decided to partner with Spotsylvania County Schools to start the Stuff the Bus School Supplies Drive.
This drive collects basic school supplies for needy and homeless children who attend Spotsylvania County Public Schools. These supplies are housed at the Treasure House located behind Massaponax High School and then distributed through school social workers to students who need them. This year is our fourth year working with Spotsylvania County Schools to organize and hold this event. Last year we had over 70 student and community volunteers who helped with this effort. The event collected over $1000 in cash donations as well as a box truck full of school supplies. Each year it has been a great way for school staff, community members, churches, students, and local business people to come together to support children in our local schools and show them that the whole community is behind their success.
We hope that you will join us this year at the Southpoint Walmart on Saturday, August 6th, (Tax-Free Weekend), for this year’s drive. Please click here to sign up, and join our student volunteers, teachers, bus drivers, school board members, the Lion’s Club, Sentara-Pratt Medical Center, Fredericksburg Sport and Health, Walmart, and of course us at Parrish Learning Zone in collecting more supplies than ever this year to help local students start the school year prepared!