Reimagining community engagement for a post-Covid world
As the old African proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child." It's easier to deduce that raising a school would take a community.
As the world was grappling in 2020 with the Coronavirus pandemic, thousands of college students fell short of what they experienced as support from their respective communities.
For many academics, this left them rethinking their teaching and learning approaches and how critical campus and community partners contribute to such processes.
The COVID-19 pandemic also idealized a new wave of programs geared toward re-emphasizing higher education's civic engagement efforts. This is community engagement.
With community partnerships, a.k.a. community programs, many colleges and universities aimed to support their young students.
As the notion of community programs is not afresh, such evolving approaches enabled many community cares partners to realign their approach to tackle student engagement.
I believe the answer to fundamental education/school transformation is robust and authentic community connections and actions. Such actions are driven by care, not by numbers.
When a small number of families, community groups, schools and even businesses band together to support learning, young people achieve more in their curriculum.
And while the benefits of online community engagement has been there for a while, the number of individuals joining such communities has skyrocketed during the last 2 years.
In a recent study by Global Web Index, it was found that 1.76% of internet users participate in an online community. These form a part of at least one group, event, page or forum.
Internet users are moving into a way of sharing with the community at its heart. Users engaging with online communities have grown significantly over the past few years.
In 2020, Facebook revealed its overall count of users. As per a message shared by founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook products accounted for over 3.5B audience members.
Further, more than 1.8 billion Facebook users engage with online communities monthly. This accounts for roughly a quarter of the world's population.
As the millennial and younger generation find a way to reconnect with community partnerships, we must also reimagine why is community engagement important.
How such college and community care partners can progress to meet the changing needs of our institutions and their benefits in longer duration is why it must be addressed.
Solely relying on local, state, or federal governments to take ownership of the issues wouldn't suffice all the needs. We must work as a community to nurture our schools for our particular community needs.
Whole community engagement is critical.
Albion College, one of the leading participants in community engagement in Michigan, works on solving real-world problems via its methodologies and actions.
With its Albion College Community Collaborative (AC3), the institute offers high-impact learning opportunities to all Albion College students and faculty.
Many other notable community programs that follow a similar commitment include Campus Compact and the Bonner Scholars Program.
The former is a national coalition of higher education institutions committed to public purpose and building democracy, while the latter can be found at institutions across the country.
Vicki L. Baker, who is affiliated with Albion College, offers four lessons that colleges should consider in developing these partnerships and programs.
Solution 1: Expand your vision of the school to include the community.
"Educators shouldn't be the only contributors. The community should be creating questions, puzzles, quotes, mind benders, trivia, philosophical and ethical challenges, thought-provoking videos, "graffiti walls," brainstorming spaces, and play areas."
We must get on the approach of finding a prominent way to introduce students to such communities. There are so many opportunities for experiential learning in the community surrounding the school.
All that's required is to find ways to connect the core curriculum beyond the classroom by attracting the right people – working collaboratively in resonance.
Solution 2: Reach out to all stakeholders.
A great way to deal with lower community engagement is to reach directly to whom it matters the most. Teachers, local businesses, and a lot more student populace in community walks are great ways to start.
For students, asking things to discuss for mentoring and support is another way to deal with dead-ends while challenging situations.
Community-school partnerships also act as a prominent scope to ask people what matters to them. And with that, if they have a solution or recommendations, it's a solution in your face.
Also read: Why is the SAT falling out of favor?
Solution 3: Create a community resource map.
A resource map is also a way to deal with college community partnership sessions. Having a broad spectrum of the skills people have to offer is the most efficient way to understand the community resources available.
Use libraries to produce a mutual connection between school-community partnerships and student learning. Libraries can provide meaningful connection points outside the school gates and community programs.
You can also take advantage of a Mind Map that reduces the efforts of a group. Instead, it allows you to invest in projects, raise awareness, and promote resource-sharing and collaboration.
Solution 4: Go outside the classroom.
College students are more likely to ask for relevance in what they learn. "Why am I learning this? I may even not use this!" is a response far too often heard from today's young people.
Getting your ideas into your mind with an application is what many college students seek.
This can be done by taking them to open community partnership drives, meeting respective bodies, and finding more information about engaging learning experiences.
Another great benefactor that many teachers can adopt is a simple idea shared in Chapter 4, "Asking the Experts", from Kathleen Cushman's book 'Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery’.
The book talks about getting good at something in a student's voice. And it is an excellent source of inspiration for individuals who are likely to get things done with utmost mastery and perfection.
The pandemic significantly impacted the colleges and universities, and while as tragic as it seems, the only way is a path forward. Administration and students will be required to adapt to newer regimes quickly. And community partnerships is one path that supports everyone's stance.
Such vital changes may take time to get accustomed to. But as students root that adaptation in bulk, it will be much easier to prowess our skills to deal with continuing change.