To Engage the Community You Need To Be In the Community

I have been asked countless times since I began my entrepreneurial journey, "What are you passionate about?" I have soul searched, had some vague ideas and gave some vague answers. Being a former teacher and Assistant Principal, my answer usually revolved around public education or kids. What I've come to realize is that it's about connecting kids with available resources.

I've attended many networking events and have met many individuals who desire to create programs for students. Some want to have students shadow them at their workplaces in order to groom and inspire the next generation of their professions. I have also spoken with large organizations that have programs for school children and have resources for students that often go unattended or unused. These organizations (sports teams, theaters, museums, etc.) often host events to highlight their programs, but have difficulty in getting students to attend those programs.

There are obstacles on the other side also. Many school districts I know of have employees who are assigned to connect their schools to community organizations and form partnerships.  However, like in the community organizations, many of these people are just working in their offices or within their school districts. This is fine, but the problem is that many students are missing out on some great educational experiences.

Before I go on- this is not an article to promote more field trips. I understand that students must spend a required number of hours in the classroom, which leaves little time for field trips. The focus of this article is not for teachers to find more activities for their students. I am advocating for community engagement personnel on both sides to find each other.  The solution is simple. Get out and network.

As a teacher, I did not network. As an administrator, I did not network either, but a lot of start up companies came to me to pitch their goods and services. I realized that a lot of these start ups attracted the kids into their programs, and the older organizations were often overlooked. The difference was that these organizations didn't reach out or connect with the school teams. They sent brochures, but didn't request face-to-face meetings to explain how their programs would help the students.

If you represent an agency and want to get students into your programs, you need to get out into the schools. Speak with teachers and administrators or ask if you can have 5-10 minutes in a staff meeting.  Find out who is the community liaison, wraparound coordinator or community engagement person and request a meeting.

If you are school personnel, you can reach out by calling your local theaters, museums, or sports teams and finding out a contact name for the community engagement person. Then, take the next step and meet with them. There is so much power in sitting down with someone, explaining what you are looking for, and finding out how their programs fit into your curriculum or PBIS programs. This can lead to possible partnerships. Also, attend business networking events, especially the ones put on the community agencies or with small business owners.

In closing, I have met many people who are looking to work with or teach students a skill or help with career exploration, but they don't know where to start. Many of these people are trying to reach the unmotivated student. School personnel often struggle with keeping these same students engaged, and many times, these students begins to demonstrate behavior problems in the classroom or eventually stop attending. In most instances, the key to motivating the unmotivated student lies in getting them interested in something. Unfortunately, that something may not be part of the curriculum.  Wouldn't it be great if the schools could connect students with businesspeople or possible careers that would motivate them to do better in school?

Ask yourself: If you never leave you office or school district, how are you actively connecting or engaging with the community?